Read Christmas With You Online

Authors: Tracey Alvarez

Christmas With You

 

Christmas With You

A Due South Novella

Tracey Alvarez

Icon Publishing

New Zealand

Christmas With You (A Due South Novella )

Copyright © 2014 by Tracey Alvrez.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.

 

Tracey Alvarez/Icon Publishing

PO Box 45, Ahipara, New Zealand.

www.traceyalvarez.com

 

Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.

 

Book Layout ©2013 BookDesignTemplates.com

 

Christmas With You - Tracey Alvarez -- 1st ed.

ISBN 978-0-473-30547-5

 

 

 

 

For my kids—my taonga— who make every Christmas magical.

 

 

 

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Chapter 1

 

Carly Gatlin stomped down the hallway carrying another box of sparkly, holiday-themed crap. She nudged open the door to Due South’s bar, her ears once again assaulted by non-stop music.

Seriously. If she had to listen to Michael Bublé sing
Winter Wonderland
one more time, there’d be bloodshed. No jury would convict her, since a girl could only take so much holiday cheer before homicidal urges kicked in.

West, her oldest stepbrother and boss, topped her hit list—insisting they play Christmas music for the two weeks prior to the Big Day. In second place came Kip, the hottie bartender—according to everyone possessing two X-chromosomes, anyway. If the man’s smug smile was any indication, her co-worker enjoyed watching her wince at the noise blaring from the bar’s sound system.

Due South was the hub of the tiny town of Oban on Stewart Island—travel any farther south and you’d hit Antarctica. Go figure why anyone thought
Winter Wonderland
was appropriate, when the only glimpse of ice here in New Zealand’s summer was the stuff served in glass tumblers.

“Now now,
Zoomi
e,” her father’s voice piped up, as real as if he stood beside her.
“Where’s your Christmas spirit?”

“Gone, Daddy.” Carly hauled the box through the doorway. “Disappeared the night you joined your flyboys in the big blue sky.”

“You say something?” From behind the bar, Kip paused in the act of tacking tinsel to the wall and glanced over his shoulder. “Hard to hear over the waves of good cheer rolling off you.” He had to raise his voice above Bublé jazzing about building a snowman. Ugh.

“Bite me,” she said.

Kip’s blue eyes crinkled at the corners, and he flashed his pretty-boy grin. Her lower belly squeezed around a little kernel of warmth.
Weird
. Since she’d arrived in Oban seven weeks ago for West’s wedding and had worked with Kip from almost day one, she should be immune to his charms by now.

Hmm, perhaps her immunity was on the fritz.

Carly dumped the box on a table by the corner West had designated as the Kissing Area. The corner was normally set up for musically inclined locals to perform or for the MC to use on quiz nights. But for the next ten days, people could position themselves in front of a huge Halfmoon Bay sunset poster with a bunch of mistletoe above their heads and take kissy-face selfies.

Ho-ho-ho. What fun.

Before the bar opened this morning, her job was to help Kip decorate Due South—starting with attaching a bunch of fake mistletoe to the ceiling.

Carly hoisted the step-ladder leaning against the wall into position. “Building up biceps, though.” She opened the ladder underneath the ceiling hook. “You’ll be one lean, mean, Christmas Grinch soon.”

“Do you ever stop talking to yourself?”

An embarrassing chicken-squawk of a sound exploded out of her and she whirled.

“Double-dammit! Don’t sneak up on me!” She bunched a fistful of the Due South polo shirt over her rabbiting heart. “What if I’d been up the ladder?”

“Then you would’ve fallen on your ass.” His gaze twitched to her hip level.

Kip Sullivan was the biggest flirt on the whole damn island. He stood five-foot-eleven, had dark brown hair, bright blue eyes above the devil’s own smile, and a muscled upper body barely concealed by his matching work polo shirt. And the way his jeans hugged his hug-able bits…

Anyway…He hadn’t earned the nickname “pretty-boy” in her head for no reason, and women drooled over him. Most women.

But not her.

Because the best way to enforce West’s low opinion of her would be to sleep with his bartender.

So. No sexy-time with Kip.

Carly grabbed the pre-tied, leafy bouquet from the box. “Since you’re here, hold the ladder steady.”

“Sure.” He braced his hands either side of the hinged spreader. “Up you go.”

Her heart gave another rabbit hop as his cologne curled into her nose. Spicy, sexy, understated yumminess. The kind of smell tempting her to use the mistletoe as an excuse to drag him closer.

The metal rungs vibrated under her ballet flats as she climbed, deliberately
not
staring at the sprinkling of chest hair visible beneath his shirt’s open collar, or his yummy throat, and even more yummy face. Yes, she’d noticed the muscled contours of his chest. No, she hadn’t imagined how far that crisp, dark hair trailed down below his collar. Much.

Concentrate on the task at hand, zoomie
. She grabbed the ladder’s top rung.

“You’re not afraid of heights, are you? You look kinda flushed. Don’t worry; I’ll catch you if you fall.”

Carly looked down at Kip’s upturned face and his to-die-for long lashes. An Air Force officer’s daughter afraid of heights?
Puh-lease
. Afraid of the effect of men with big blue eyes and sinfully-scented skin? Just a smidgeon.

“I’m fine.”

“This isn’t one of West’s better ideas,” he said. “Who’s going to donate a buck to charity and kiss their lady under a bunch of fake mistletoe?”

“Plenty of women around here would kiss you for a dollar. Mistletoe or no mistletoe.” Hell, they’d probably pay at least ten and cat-fight to be the first in line. “I don’t know why West insists on hanging it up instead of letting the guy dangle it over his girl’s head.” She looped the string around the hook.

“Because the way a man
should
kiss a woman requires having both hands free.” His voice was as smooth and intoxicating as eggnog, the kind her dad used to make with a healthy dollop of brandy.

It’d been a while since a man had kissed her like that—and even then, the guy had definitely not been as magnetic as Kip Sullivan. Carly’s knees trembled as if she’d downed a half dozen spiked eggnogs—not enough to tip the ladder, since he had a firm grip, but enough for her precarious balance to go AWOL.

Her gut plummeted first, and then Kip got a hell of a lot closer as she toppled off the ladder.

 

***

 

In movies, when a woman falls off a ladder, the leading guy swoops in and catches her with masculine agility.

Reality proved a little different and a lot more painful.

Kip lunged for Carly’s legs to steady her—an epic fail—but she slammed into his chest, a flailing mass of limbs, and propelled him backward. Some body part collided with his forehead, something else smacked him dead center of his chest, and a knee delivered the coup-de-grace to his balls. His butt whacked the table behind him, sending it screeching away. They collapsed to the floor, the spilled box of Christmas decorations tangled around them.

A not-so-manly wheeze exploded from his lungs. He folded himself inward to cup his throbbing junk, only to receive a face-full of long auburn hair and a whack to the ribs as the woman sprawled on top of him wriggled like a landed fish.

Kip fell back, his head thunking on wood.

Squeezing his eyes closed, he counted the thud-thud-thud of his heartbeat as blood pounded in his temples. Focused on not humiliating himself by puking all over his prickly pillow of tinsel. In his old life on his dad’s dairy farm, Kip’d had the memorable experience of a pissed-off cow kicking him in the gut. Right now, he’d prefer to deal with a pissed-off cow than the woman struggling to untangle herself.

“Stop. Moving,” he choked out, clamping his palms over his eyes.

Carly stilled, allowing the tiny elves stabbing daggers in his nut sack to do their evil work.

“Are you okay?” she whispered.

Most useless question in the English language.

He groaned, an
oh-God-I’m-dying
sound and ran through an internal diagnostic.

Head? Tender spot on forehead but not concave.

Chest? Heavy with female body slumped on it, but ribs seemed solid, despite receiving a beating.

Gut? Almost out of the danger zone of upchucking this morning’s breakfast.

Junk? Not happy, but since she hadn’t scored a direct hit, probably wouldn’t explode. And God willing, he’d be able to produce the grandkids his parents were desperate for. Maybe. He’d settle for working order, since kids meant a wife and family, and he wasn’t going there any time soon.

Kip’s hands slipped from his face and he blinked, flashing colors clearing from his vision. Carly had the most beautiful whiskey-colored eyes he’d ever seen. For a moment, the elves quit stabbing at him and he soaked up her creamy skin—flushed pink high on her cheekbones—the tiny beauty mark between her nose and her slightly parted mouth. He’d never been this close to her, and if death wasn’t imminent, he’d appreciate having her curvy body snugged up against him.

“I’m sorry.”

At least that’s what he thought she said. He couldn’t be sure, since her soft, lush lips were moving and causing all sorts of brain-to-body malfunctions.

Maybe he’d smacked his head harder than he thought.

With tentative movements, she scraped her hair off his face and tucked the strands behind her ear. “Can I move now?”

He raised a finger, his arm muscles like pureed gelatin. “Give me a sec.”

A small white tooth appeared on Carly’s lower lip, dimpling the skin as she bit down. “Did you hit your head? Oh, God. Concussion?”

“Nope. Damage is lower.”

“Your ribs? Crap, did I crack one?” Her forearm braced beside his ribcage as she pushed up a little to scan the length of him.

Just as well his junk was out of action, since the movement brushed her full breasts over his chest.

“Not my ribs. Or legs. Or stomach—though that feels like a semi-trailer dropped on it.”

“Then your—?” The pink spots on her cheekbones darkened, spreading up to disappear under her hair. Her gaze returned to his. “My knee hit you?”

“Connected with the meat and two veggies, yeah.”

“Oops. But you did say you’d catch me if I fell.”

He grimaced. “I’m a guy; we’re meant to say macho shit like that.” Then it occurred to him. “Are you okay?”

She patted his chest. “You made a great landing pad. Guess I’m no delicate, dainty flower dropping into your arms.”

More like a red-headed, smokin’ hot cannonball.

The bar door creaked open, and a gust of brine-tinted sea air blew in, followed by what sounded like a small stampede of buffaloes.

Honestly, couldn’t people read the
Sorry, we’re closed
sign?

Carly’s head jerked up. “We’re closed,” she yelled.

Then a flurry of warm female limbs moved over him, tinsel dragging over his face as Carly rolled off with a soft
oomph
.

“Uncle Kip! Uncle Kip!”

Little boy voices. Pitched high with excitement. In perfect stereo.

Kip remained flat on his back and arched his neck, gawping at two five-year-old boys dressed in matching shorts and tees. Two dark-haired heads, two wide grins, two sets of curious eyes.

His twin nephews, Lucas and Logan—which meant…

Two more familiar faces appeared, towering over the boys’ shoulders.

“Hey, boys. Hello, Mum.” Kip swallowed with a sawdust-dry throat. “And Dad.”

“Hi, Uncle Kip!” The twins chorused then dived into the tinsel.

“Aren’t you too old to be playing with decorations, son?” his mother asked.

His dad grinned so widely, he exposed a gold capped molar. James Sullivan was close to retirement age, though he looked to be in his early fifties. Nothing wrong with his dad’s deductive powers, either—the laugh lines crinkling around his eyes indicated the old man knew what Kip would rather play with.

“My fault,” said Carly from his side. Tinsel and clothing rustled as she scrambled to her feet. “I fell off the ladder, and Kip’s the collateral damage. I’m Carly, by the way. I work with your son.”

“Lovely to meet you.” His mum rushed over and skimmed her hands down Carly’s arms. “Are you all right? My Rachel fell off a barn ladder when she was ten, fractured her wrist, poor thing.”

“I don’t think I’ve broken anything, Mrs. Sullivan,” Carly said. “Except, perhaps, Kip.”

His mother’s head whipped around, eyes like CAT scan lasers examining him from his canvas shoes to his fortunately unbroken nose. Heather Sullivan in mother-hen mode was a terrifying thing. He sure as shit wasn’t telling her what part of his anatomy felt broken.

Kip propped himself up on his elbows and restrained another groan as his balls throbbed. He held up a palm. “Mum, I’m good.”

His dad edged around his splayed legs to offer him a hand. “Workplace accidents, eh? Bugger.”

Kip grabbed the outstretched, callused palm, and with the extra boost, his dad hauled him to his feet and straight into a back-thumping man-hug. His old man was still as strong as a two-year-old Holstein-Friesian bull. As soon as he let go of his dad, his mother snagged him, dragging him in and squeezing his wrist, no doubt checking for protruding bone shards.

Kip loved his parents, he really did.

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