A Christmas Season, age-gap and opposites-attract, M/M romance that is warm-hearted, cozy and packed with feel-good!
One hard-nosed military police officer.
One overly enthusiastic elf.
One poorly timed snowstorm.
Is it a recipe for disaster? Or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for holiday romance?
Teddy MacNally loves Christmas and everything that goes along with it. When he plays an elf for his charity’s events, he never expects to be paired with a Scrooge masquerading as Santa Claus. His new mission: make the holiday-hating soldier believe he was born to say ho-ho-ho.
Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki doesn’t do Santa, but he’s army to his blood. When his CO asks an unusual favor, Nick of course obliges. The elf to his Kris Kringle? Tempting. Too tempting—Nick’s only in town for another month, and Teddy’s too young, too cheerful and too nice for a one-night stand.
The slow, sexy make-out sessions while Teddy and Nick are alone and snowbound, though, feel like anything but a quick hookup. As a stress-free holiday fling turns into Christmas all year round, Teddy can’t imagine his life without Nick. And Nick’s days on the base may be coming to a close, but he doesn’t plan on leaving anything, or anyone, behind.
The Santa suit didn’t fit. It itched. And it tugged against Nick’s skin as he drove out of Fort End, heading southeast toward the small town of Mineral Spirits. On the rare occasions he ventured off base into what he still thought of as the wilds of upstate New York, he got on the interstate and went straight to Watertown. He did his shopping or went out to eat and never bothered with these narrow state highways and back roads leading to tiny villages and hamlets, most of which seemed to have Mills or Crossing in their name and were pretty interchangeable as far as he was concerned.
Mineral Spirits was slightly bigger than most of the towns, notable for the covered bridge that his older F-150 creaked over on the way into a downtown that seemed fresh out of the 1950s red- and gray-brick buildings with signs announcing homey businesses such as Nancy’s Diner and Pete’s Pet Store. And apparently the village was also known for a borderline freaky obsession with the holidays — even now, a week before Thanksgiving, he spied Christmas decorations on more than one storefront and cutouts of turkeys and pilgrims on a few others.
His stupid GPS kept going out — something about the hills around here made cell service spotty — but the Helping Hand Resource Center was easy enough to find, right off Main Street as Commander Grace had told him. The low white building was decorated with giant colorful handprints on the sides and a large cheerful sign that proclaimed its name and All Are Welcome. He parked in the far corner of the lot, backing into the space, as was his habit.
A bitter wind greeted him, but he didn’t bother with his jacket. The damn suit was hot enough, the way it clung to his back, plush red fabric anything but breathable. He remembered to grab the beard and wig, but no way was he putting those on until the last minute. He opened the door to the center only to be greeted by an honest-to-God green-clad elf.
“Nick?” The elf grinned at him like they’d been introduced already. And okay, he wasn’t a literal elf, just a small young man with curly blond hair in an elf outfit he seemed perfectly comfortable in — green-and-white-striped tights, hat with a bell, curving slippers, and all. “Sergeant Major Nowicki, yes.” It had been years since he’d been just plain Nick for someone outside of his own head, and he wasn’t about to start with this overly friendly elf.
“Yes, Miriam told us to expect you. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate you filling in for Wallace.”
Nick couldn’t remember ever hearing Commander Grace referred to by her first name. He knew it, of course, but she was his commanding officer first and foremost, even if she had made efforts over the last few months to make sure he felt welcome at Fort End. And when she asked him for this favor, he’d felt unable to say no, mainly because she was kind and generous and wasn’t one to abuse her position and ask for special treatment.
“Of course. Everyone at the base is hoping for a full recovery from Mr. Grace.” The commander’s husband was an elementary school teacher in Mineral Spirits, and they’d made their home here rather than on base as Nick did.
And apparently, every year they’d been stationed at Fort End, Mr. Grace had played Santa for this charity. The job entailed letting the local paper get photos of him in unusual locations around town so it could run a contest where readers tried to guess “Where’s Santa now?” And then he’d appear at a couple of different town events over the course of the season as part of a campaign to raise money for the charity’s holiday efforts. The Graces loved this season and this tiny town. But Mr. Grace had suffered a heart attack two days ago and had been life-flighted all the way into Syracuse for open-heart surgery. Commander Grace had called him from I-81, worried not about making it to the hospital, but about whether there would be a Santa for this year’s fund-raiser. And he, fool that he was, had said he’d handle finding a replacement except everyone he talked to was already committed to something this weekend and, somehow, he’d ended up being the one in the suit.
A suit that was far too small, smelled vaguely of mothballs and had probably seen better decades. But he was here to do his duty.
“I’m supposed to see Mr. MacNally,” he told the elf, who was still looking up at him expectantly.
“That would be me. Call me Teddy though. Everyone does.” Another broad grin. And, of course, Mr. Casual was a Teddy. Despite his small stature and baby face, he had to be at least twenty-five since he was the director of this charity. Far too old and in-charge to be a Teddy.
“Who’s the one taking the pictures?” He was eager to get this show on the road.
“That would be my cousin, Rhonda.” He beckoned over a younger woman with similar curly blond hair. “She works for the paper. She’s got several locations scouted out already. I thought you might like to start with a little tour of our facilities? Get you up to speed on what we stand for, maybe get you more in the spirit of things.”
That wasn’t possible as Nick didn’t have an ounce of holiday spirit left, if he’d ever had any to begin with. But he wasn’t out to be rude, so he nodded. “You’ve got me for the day.”
“Excellent.” Another megawatt smile, this one worthy of a dental ad, all perfectly gleaming white teeth and wide, full lips. He really shouldn’t be noticing MacNally’s mouth, full or otherwise. He wasn’t here to get sidetracked by pouty perfection.
One more month, he reminded himself. One more month at Fort End, which ironically really was the end for him. End of the line, the army’s refusal to let him re-up bringing a twenty-eight year career to a halt at the nation’s most remote, northernmost outpost, a place that often felt like the end of the earth, far removed from his desert deployments and years stationed in Hawaii, California, and other warm states. He still wasn’t exactly happy about the army’s decision to go all-in on a reduction in forces, but he had a pretty sweet plan B waiting for him if he could just make it through this last month. One month and he’d be in Florida, on a boat, no Santa suit in sight, no obligations or distractions …
Why that vision kept making his chest hurt, he didn’t know. It might be the Army’s call, but he’d worked nearly three decades to earn the military retirement coming to him. By this time in January, he’d have his own place on the ocean and a partnership with his old Army buddy, who did boat day trips for tourists and made himself a nice little living.
Fuck. Nick did not want a ride — or anything else, those kissable lips included — from MacNally. However, he was also a realist and wasn’t going to waste time arguing or risk stomping all over the other two’s feelings.
This is simply another mission, Nick told himself. He’d been on patrols in roasting-hot desert temperatures, conducted murder investigations, dealt with bomb threats and more disorderly conduct than he could even remember. Surely, he could get through one day in this blasted suit with the too-perky elf for company and then be on his way back to base, back to his holiday-free orderly life with its countdown to his retirement.
4 Top pick
3 Compelling page-turner
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