Nadia Johansson blew out a long breath and made a Christmas wish. She asked for
enough energy to get though the rest of the night. The caffeine she drank earlier
wore out of her blood stream. She would have to break out the jumper cables and Red
Bull if she wanted to keep moving
As she walked by the festively decorated tree in the corner of the deserted office,
she traced a finger over the stiff bristles of the branches that displayed bright
bows and glass balls.
She didn’t hate Christmas. She just didn’t have time to enjoy it since she started
her catering business, Wild Thyme. For a caterer, Christmas was always the busiest
time of the year. Between corporate holiday parties and dinners at private homes,
Nadia needed roller-skates.
She stared out the windows at the Seattle skyline, and then trailed her gaze back
to the room for any missed rental ware.
The office party went off without a hitch and everyone was in good spirits. Unlike
a few holiday caters she’d there’d been no drunk elves trying to cop a feel as she
walked by with a tray of ham roll-ups in her hands.
Even though she was running on fumes, Nadia had let her staff go home early. Julie
and Linda needed to spend time with their families. Lucky her. All she had at home
waiting for her was a cat, Leroy, and a hot shower. Right now a hot shower was the
most glorious thing her brain could imagine.
Since Ken moved out of her apartment and her life last Christmas, she’d been working
day and night and poured all her energy into making her business a success.
She’d wasted too much time thinking Ken loved her. What did it get her… a broken
heart? Now, all she had to think about was competitive catering bids, and not why
someone left her without saying goodbye.
Love wasn’t in the cards for her.
Nadia picked up the last of the red napkins and pushed them into the white cloth
bag supplied by the linen store.
Nadia cracked the stiffness in her neck and rubbed the knot between her shoulder
blades with her thumb. She was only twenty-nine, but catering was strenuous work.
Tonight she felt like an old lady.
A wayward champagne glass sat in the windowsill. She slipped it into her hand and
wandered towards the lunchroom kitchen where she sat up the work station.
She walked into the company’s lunchroom ignoring the light switch on the far side
of the wall, and fumbled her way through the dim light of the room. Nadia bent, and
wiggled the empty champagne flute into the rental rack.
“I thought I was the last one here,” a deep voice said from the far side of the
room. Nadia squeaked and dashed to flip on the light switch. In an instant, florescent
light flooded the room with a yellow glare.
A man dressed in a bright red Santa suit, complete with beard and hat, sat on a
plastic office chair in the corner. He squinted and raised his hand to shield his
eyes from the light. Dark mud and water soaked his bright red pants and coat, and
pooled in tiny puddles at his feet.
“What happened? Are you okay?” Nadia asked, looking at the scraped skin on his knuckles.
Blood the color of his suit seeped from fresh wounds. She took a deep breath to calm
her startled nerves. “I saw you earlier at the party, didn’t I?”
He nodded, and rubbed his fingers over the abrasions. “When the party was over,
I was on my way back to my car. I slipped on some ice in the parking lot. I felt
a little dizzy, so I came back up the elevator to sit in here for awhile. I thought
I would be able to drive home, but I think I hit my head.” He pointed at his feet.
“These boots went out from under me, and down I went
She ran a clean cloth under the kitchen faucet then walked over and kneeled in front
of him. “Santa fell in the snow? I thought he’d have some kind of special tread on
his boots to avoid that. I know Seattle doesn’t usually get snow, but Santa needs
to think ahead and have Mrs. Claus get him some snow shoes.”
“There is no Mrs. Claus,” he answered, eyeing her. “She ran off with Santa’s elves,
Dopey and Sleepy.”
“Snow White’s going to be jealous when she finds out she’s being two-timed.” Nadia
smiled as she met his gaze for the first time. Over the fake white beard, she looked
into his deep, sky-blue eyes. She’d never seen eyes quite so blue. They were piercing,
soul-searching, and sad.
Through his teeth he sucked in a breath, as she laid the cool, damp cloth over his
bruised knuckles. “Sorry I scared you,” he muttered.
“You didn’t scare me, you startled me. There’s a difference.”
“Where’s your staff?”
“It’s been a long week. You have to take care of the people that work for you, or
they don’t want to come back. Julie and Linda put in a hundred and ten percent this
time of year for my company. It’s busy at Christmas time… you should know.” Nadia
grinned again, feeling silly having a conversation with Santa.
“I guess some people like their jobs…” his words trailed off as he sighed what about
“his words trailed off behind a sigh and he looked down at his feet”? and looked
down at his feet.
Nadia opened the lid of a cooler on the floor. She placedsome cubes of ice in the
wet cloth and laid it back on his knuckled.
When he touched her hand, an electrical current passed between them. Her eyes popped
up to see him watching her.
“You don’t need to stick around and worry about me. You look tired. I’ll be fine,”
“You know your life’s not that bad. You might be a rent-a-Santa, but I sling food
for people. Minimum wage is better than no wage at all in this day and age. Do you
have another job other than being Kris Kringle?”
“Yeah, you could say I do this on the side.” His eyes crinkled at the corners. She
could tell he was smiling and curious to see the rest of his face.
She rose and stuck out her hand. “My name’s Nadia. What can I call you… or do you
want to keep it formal with Mr. Claus?”
“My name’s Sean.” Her hand tingled where his fingers touched the sensitive skin
at her inner wrist.
“Mind if I take off the hat and beard? I want to see if you did any damage to the
back of your head.” As she pulled off the fluffy wig, she revealed a head of dark
brown hair that tumbled free and tipped the white fur of his collar. She rubbed her
fingers over his scalp, encountering a large lump on the back of his head. “I should
probably take you to the ER.”
“I’m fine,” he grumbled. “Sitting for eight hours at the hospital is not going to
make me feel any better.”
She ran a hand through his hair. It was silky, rich, and the color of dark chocolate…
her favorite thing. He smelled like the outdoors, a sensual mix of pine trees and
from the warm hat she’d just removed.
“Ouch,” he said and winced. “I think you found the spot where I hit.”
“No kidding. You have a pretty good goose egg back there.” She stepped around to
peer through the parted long hair until she saw skin. “I don’t see any grey matter,
but you definitely have a big knot. Are you still feeling dizzy?”
“No,” he said, as he struggled to push himself to his feet. His knees swayed and
then almost buckled. He grasped the edge of the kitchen counter with his hand.
“Whoa, there. Would you knock it off?” Nadia scolded, as she grabbed him around
the waist. “Sit back down. You’re way too big to haul off the floor. If you don’t
want the EMT’s here, you better work with me.”
He sat and the chair groaned under his weight. Before he’d stood, Nadia hadn’t realized
how tall he was. He’d seemed shorter slumped in the chair. She wasn’t tiny, but this
man stood a good few inches past six feet.
He shifted his broad shoulders, and dropped his hands between his knees to hang.
“Okay, Sean. I’m not going to leave you here. Whatever happened tonight to get you
down is too bad. You can deal with that later. They didn’t pay me to cater a pity-party
for you, so here’s the deal.” She lifted one of his eyelids to stare into his blue
eyes and swallowed. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
She was supposed to be looking in his eyes to see if he had a concussion. Her job
was to take care of this poor soul. So why, when he was this close, did she want
to pull him to her and kiss those slippery black boots off his feet?
He watched her lick her suddenly dry lips before his eyes rose to meet her’s. Nadia
laid a hand on his strong, defined jaw and tipped his head to gaze in the other equally
blue eye. The stubble from his beard felt rough on the tips of her fingers as she
tipped his head farther to the side.
His pulse beat in the open collar of his red coat made Nadia wonder what surprises
he held under that big red coat. She doubted his stomach shook like a bowl full of
jelly. In fact, she would bet it was pretty much hard as a rock.
Christmas was still a few days away. Was it too late to fill out her wish list?
Santa was right here for goodness sake. But, was it okay to sit on Santa’s lap… and
wish for Santa?
She hoped he didn’t give her the test on being naughty or nice. From what she was
thinking, she’d fail the test miserably. All she could think of were ways to have
him pinned between the microwave and the mini-fridge. Her thoughts were definitely
naughty at the moment.
“You were going to make me a deal?” His voice snapped her back, as her cheeks flushed
“As I was saying, I’m not going to leave you here to pass out. They can accuse me
of a lot of things, but letting Santa keel over won’t be one of them.”
“I’m not going to the hospital. I don’t like hospitals,” he said like a stubborn
“Okay, Santa Sean. I’ll drive you home. Where do you live?”
“About an hour from here.”
Nadia shook her head. “That won’t work. I’m too tired. I’d run us both into a tree,
and then you would have airbag bruises along with your concussion. My apartment’s
about five minutes from here. You can sleep on the couch with my cat, Leroy. I can
make sure you don’t have any complications from your cracked head, and I’m only a
few minutes from the hospital.”
He clasped his hands together, staring at the floor. “Why would you do that? You
don’t even know me. Why would you want to help?”
“It’s Christmas. You’re supposed to do nice things for people all year ‘round, but
especially this time of year, right?” She flipped him a grin. “Maybe I’ll score some
points and get something good in my stocking from Santa this year.”
Sean raised an eyebrow as his eyes flashed. She wasn’t the kind of girl to make
the first move… or had she just done that? Nadia hadn’t meant her words to come out
sounding like a total come-on… but what the hell.
He glanced around the kitchen. “What about all the glasses and plates, do we just
leave them here?”
“Yes, thank goodness. The rental place picks it all up in the morning. I don’t think
I could lift one more glass. I’m beat.” Nadia yawned, grabbed her purse, and reached
for his arm. “Here, put your arm around my shoulder just in case you feel dizzy again.”
“You’re too tired to lift a glass, but you can hold on to me?” He leaned closer.
She could feel the heat of his body through the thin fabric of her white blouse.
His arm draped easily across the width of her shoulders as she supported his weight.
When she turned her head, his face was inches from hers.
“What I want to do right now is kiss you,” his voice was rich and husky. He toyed
with a stray strand of her blond hair as he stroked a path up the bare skin of her
neck. Shivers shot through her, making her knees as weak as she knew his were.
“I… uh…” Nadia knew she should say no, but now the woman who was always accused
of talking too much couldn’t seem to form a single word.
Up close, he looks even better… smells even better.
Heated. Sexy. She couldn’t draw her eyes away from his mouth. The place the promised
kiss would come from. The warmth of his breath touched her face and mingled with
the cool air. Nadia’s breath caught, as she bit her lip holding back a moan.
He tipped his head to press against her forehead. “But as my father always said,
good things come to those who wait.” The smile that followed could have melted the
snow outside. Dimples creased his cheeks. “Come on, where’s your car,” he asked,
walking with her towards the elevator.
When they reached the parking lot, Sean said, “This is a good idea. My head’s still
Nadia fished the keys from the pocket of her backpack. “I still think we should
stop at the ER so they can take a look at you.”
“Why? I have the best nurse in Seattle. I’d much rather be on the couch with your
cat, than sitting on a Saturday night in the ER with a hundred of my closest friends.”
Sean braced his hand against the side of the van and looked down. “Shit, I didn’t
realize what a mess I was. I can’t get in your car like this.”
“Can you take off the Santa suit?”
He shook his head.
“Santa goes commando?” She’d meant it was a joke, but her question stained his cheeks
“I’ve got boxers on. It’s hot in this suit,” he answered, as he reached to unbutton
the top of his coat.
Nadia rolled her eyes. “I was joking. It must be twenty-five degrees out here. If
you’re half naked, you’ll freeze to death on the ride home. It’s a catering van,
not a BMW. It gets hosed out on a weekly basis. A little mud and water is more sanitary
than spilled potato salad. If I was worried about it, I wouldn’t have offered the
She slammed the passenger door and hurried around to the other side. What was she
doing? Everything in her day was planned out. That’s why she liked catering, it had
schedules and portions divided up in small cups.
She wasn’t a by-the-seat-of-her-pants kind of girl. But this guy looked like he
needed a break. She couldn’t just leave him there if he was hurt.
It was the Christmas season after all… and it was only one night.