Authors: Nina Bruhns,Ann Charles,Rita Herron,Lois Lavrisa,Patricia Mason
Tags: #A Christmas Anthology
Save Me, Santa
A Christmas Anthology
Nina Bruhns | Ann Charles | Rita Herron | Lois Lavrisa | Patricia Mason
Must Love Santa
NYPD Vice Detective Nick Palladin pressed the remote trigger of the camouflaged GoPro camera mounted on his holiday donation stand, and captured the image of yet another person who emerged from his prime suspect’s office two doors down. The scummy veterinarian was doing a brisk business in rabies shots today.
Nick tucked the remote back in the oversized pocket of his red plush suit and hoped to hell
dog owner would be the link he’d been seeking for four years, the link that tied the shady vet to a ruthless human trafficking ring Nick was convinced the man was the brains behind.
Too bad no one else believed it. Including his lieutenant.
Which explained why Nick was spending his two precious days off standing on a street corner, sporting a bright red suit and hat, white beard, and going deaf from ringing a goddamn silver bell. Whose insane idea had this been, anyway?
Oh, yeah. His own.
It was a measure of how badly he wanted to nail this bastard, and how desperate he was to get out of Vice. Closing this case would finally allow Nick to transfer to the K-9 Unit, something he wanted more than anything. He was burned out bigtime on the coldblooded crimes and the brutal violence they dealt with in Vice, and he needed a change. Preferably to something kinder and gentler.
Such as the K-9 Unit.
Nick loved dogs, and nothing would make him happier than working with steadfast, cheerful canines every day for the rest of his career.
But he’d made a promise to a dying girl with big green eyes that had once been clear and innocent, but were haunted by cruel abuse as he’d gazed back into them and sworn to avenge her.
He was not about to leave Vice before fulfilling that vow.
He glanced down at his faithful, four-legged companion and gave an inward sigh. Not that Zenon the Terrible would help his chances to make it into the K-9 Unit, even if he were free of his promise. The young Airedale had seemed a perfect fit when Nick was scouring the city dog pounds and rescue groups for a canine partner a year ago. The two-year-old was smart, lively, and eager. But terriers weren’t called “terrors” in jest for nothing.
As if in perfect understanding, Zenon beamed mischievously up at him. If he could, Nick was pretty sure the big airehead would be waggling his bushy eyebrows. But it was impossible to be irritated with the aireball. Grinning back, Nick gave him a scratch between the ears and adjusted the reindeer antler headband that kept wanting to slide off. The showoff was just too damn cute—and too damn grateful for his rescue from that God-awful dog pound. Zenon might be a pain in the ass, but he had a heart of gold, and there wasn’t a chance in hell Nick would ever trade him in for a more obedient model.
They’d just have to work harder at his training.
He was giving him a biscuit for being good when footsteps approached from behind them.
“Hello, Detective Palladin.” The smooth, educated voice cut through Nick’s gut like a razor. “I thought it was you under that ridiculous beard,” Frank Kraznov said with amusement as Nick turned to face his nemesis. “Love your disguise. Santa. Very clever.”
Nick balled his hands into fists to keep from doing something he’d regret. At his side, Zenon growled.
The veterinarian studied the sign on the collection pot and pretended to be surprised. “Oh, I see! You’re collecting for the Police Widows and Orphans Fund. Here. Let me make a contribution.” The bastard held up a hundred dollar bill. He was wearing gloves. Perfectly acceptable on a winter’s day. How convenient.
Nick clamped his teeth. “Keep your dirty money,” he spat out. “We don’t want it.”
Ignoring the insult, Kraznov deliberately folded the bill and slid it through the slot in the donation pot. “Do have a very merry Christmas, Detective.” With that, he strolled leisurely back toward his office.
Zenon kept growling.
“Good boy,” Nick murmured, and fed him another biscuit. The dog definitely had good instincts.
A little girl danced around Nick and Zenon, pulling her mom along by the hand. “It’s Santa and Woodolf!”
Gathering himself, Nick put on a smile and winked at her. “Have you been a good little girl for your mommy this year?”
“I have, I pwomise!” She jumped up and down. “Awe you and Woodolf going to bwing me lots of pwesents, Santa?”
“You bet,” he answered, and aimed a jolly, “Ho ho ho,” at the mom. But on the inside, Nick was anything but jolly.
The little girl had big, green, innocent eyes.
Which made him more determined than ever to nail the vicious scum who would steal this girl’s sweetness and feed it to the highest bidder.
Frank Kraznov was going down, if it was the last thing Nick ever did.
Oh, God. Not another Santa.
Emily Milan groaned inwardly. Red-clad, bell-ringing Santas had been popping up everywhere in Manhattan lately, and she always felt like a Grinch if she passed them by without dropping at least a few coins in the pot. But if she kept it up, she’d be totally broke before Christmas.
Not that she had far to go.
Emily gripped a pink, bejeweled leash in her hand, at the end of which her frisky charge, Pogo, perked. Pogo’s ears went straight up, and her front paw paused in midair.
Emily did a double-take at the Santa up ahead.
Oh, just great
. This one had a
. Even from half a block away she could see a big, scary, brown and black beast sitting next to him on the sidewalk.
Okay, on second thought, maybe not so scary. Poking up between its ears was an off-kilter pair of reindeer antlers.
Passers-by were stopping to laugh and comment, and everyone was donating generously.
Emily couldn’t help laughing, too, as she got closer. The poor pooch actually looked embarrassed.
Then it spotted Pogo. Leaping up, the beast stood at attention. Pogo started to prance on her leash, wanting to run and greet her new friend.
Emily gripped the leash tighter. “Pogo!” she commanded sternly. “Ignore the nice doggie. You need to pee.”
Emily checked her watch. She only had twenty minutes to get to her job interview. Even though it was only a couple of blocks away, there was no time for any of Pogo’s usual shenanigans.
be late. All her plans depended on getting this job.
“Come on, sweet girl. Hurry up,” she coaxed.
Being able to borrow her holiday-vacationing friend Cindy’s apartment while job-hunting in New York City was a lifesaver. But seriously, she must have been totally out of her mind when she’d agreed to take care of the dog, too. She was
not a dog person. Oh, she liked them all right, but had no idea how to talk to one to make it obey.
Suddenly, Pogo squeaked out a pained bark. A rude man sneered down at her. “Watch where you’re going, mutt.” Hands in his pockets, he drew back a foot to kick her.
Outraged, Emily gasped. “Hey!”
Rather than cowering, Pogo wriggled her butt and started to bark at the top of her lungs. Then she lunged at the man’s ankles. The leash jerked wildly.
Emily’s stiletto heels caught on a crack in the sidewalk. She wheeled, her purse went flying, and she lost her balance. “Oh, crap!”
She went down. Hard. Right into the gutter. The wind was knocked from her lungs in a blinding flash of pain.
A deep bark suddenly sounded above her, and a blur of brown and black fur streaked past. Followed swiftly by the pounding of boots, and the jingle of bells.
“Zenon! Sit! Heel!” Then came some very un-Santa-like curses. “God
it, Zenon! Would you freaking
Pogo’s leash jerked even more frantically, biting into Emily’s hand as she lay flat on her back gasping for air. Somehow she managed to hang onto the leash, but her sleeve was dragged back and forth across the filthy pavement of the gutter. Then she heard a distinct
of a button popping off.
No, no, no
Her heart plummeted, and this time she groaned out loud as she squeezed her eyes shut.
Her new suit!
For the interview, she’d spent the last dregs of her final paycheck from her former job to pay for the splashy couture business suit at a high end consignment shop off Fifth Avenue.
“Ma’am? Are you okay?” The concerned masculine voice blended perfectly with the deep timbre of the barking. Almost as if…
Dogs did not talk. Jeez, she must have hit her head. She opened her eyes.
Santa was staring down at her, looking very worried.
Wow. Talk about visions of sugarplums.
Oh. My. God
. What a Santa!
His eyes were as blue as a North Pole sky, gazing at him from beneath a rakishly angled, long red Santa hat. Instead of a big, fat belly, he had a lean waist which arrowed up to a broad chest, and wide shoulders that stretched his red plush jacket to the breaking point. His soft, white beard was pulled down around his neck leaving sexy dark stubble in its place. His strong hands were large and gentle as they felt along her limbs for injuries.
She was sorely tempted to open her jacket and let him continue up her ribs. And maybe a bit higher.
“Um,” she croaked. “I’m fine. Pogo?”
Santa’s blue eyes blinked.
“My friend’s dog. The little white whippersnapper.”
“Ah.” His eyes rose and scanned, flared, then snapped back to hers. “She’s fine, too.”
Around them, the crowd snickered.
Suspicion curled through Emily. “What’s going on?” She tried to rise up on an elbow, but Santa put a hand to her shoulder.
“Don’t move. I’m calling an ambulance.” His free hand dipped under his red jacket.
Panic zinged through her. “Please, there’s no need!” No way could she afford to pay
bill. “I’m good. Really.”
To prove her point, she scrambled clumsily to her feet. As she glanced down at her soiled, ruined suit and scraped, uneven shoes, any hope she had for making her job interview deflated. She wobbled on her broken high heel.
“Whoa, there.” Santa grabbed her arm to steady her. “You don’t look fine to me.”
She stifled the urge to mutter, “Gee, thanks.”
fault her entire future was ruined. It was that rude man’s. The one who was going to kick Pogo.
She scanned the crowd, wanting to let the creep have it with both barrels. But just then, Pogo gave a big tug and her leash whipped from Emily’s fingers. The little menace took off at a tear down 22
“Pogo!” she cried. “Come back here!” She started to kick off her high heels, prepared to run after her.
Santa’s fingers tightened around her arm. “Oh, no, you don’t.”
“I have to get her back!” she cried. “Cindy will kill me!”
“Stay here. I’ll get the dog.” Santa turned, then swore. His big, brown and black dog was chasing merrily after Pogo, reindeer antlers all akimbo. “Zenon!” he roared.
With another muttered curse, he took off after them.
Despite her misery, Emily laughed.
It was either that or sit back down in the gutter and cry.
An old man tottered up with her purse, and a young woman came over and gave her the broken heel from her shoe. “Maybe you can get them fixed,” she said, studying them sympathetically. “There’s a great repair place a few blocks down 21
.” She looked at Emily’s suit and shook her head.
“Thanks.” Emily couldn’t afford repairs, but she dropped the heel into her pocket anyway, and limped after Santa. ehe G
She caught up to him over a block away, at the entrance to the Clement Clarke Moore Park. He’d halted, and was searching the enclosed shrubbery with sharp eyes.
“Do you see them?” she asked anxiously.
An odd noise emerged from the bushes. His mouth flattened and he stalked toward it. She hurried after him, nearly plowing into him when he stopped and gave another mumbled oath.
“You know, you have a very colorful vocabulary, Santa,” she remarked as she peered over his shoulder. “Don’t the mothers—” The words froze in her mouth. “Oh.”
Pogo and Zenon were behind the bushes, all right, getting better acquainted.