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For December we'll once again post our annual Christmas stories! This year's first line to start each story: She'd never seen a Santa suit used in quite that way.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Destiny Part One by Jannine Gallant


She’d never seen a Santa suit used in quite that way. Red velvet trimmed in white flowed out from beneath the rear end of the four-wheel-drive pickup stuck in the snow miles from the main road. Either the occupant of the cab failed to bring along a shovel and had turned to more creative means of freeing his vehicle from the shallow ditch—or he’d just run over Kris Kringle.
A string of expletives describing exactly how the driver felt about the sudden snowstorm that had hit the High Sierra hard and fast carried over the whirring of the spinning tire. Finally he cut the engine, and with one last four-letter comment, got out and slammed the truck door.
“Kitty litter works a heck of a lot better than a Santa suit.”
A tall man wearing a dark green down jacket and a knit hat rocked to a stop and pressed a gloved hand to his chest. “Good God, give me a heart attack. Where did you come from?”
Shay eyed him up and down. Broad shoulders and a wide chest sure filled out the jacket. She was no wimp when it came to self-defense but guessed this guy could take her down in a heartbeat. If he could catch her. Still, despite the swearing—and she didn’t blame him considering the circumstances—his deep blue eyes reflected an even temper. She was pretty sure the ax tossed on top of the noble fir in the bed of the truck had only been used on the tree and not the former owner of the red suit.
She glided closer on her cross country skis. “I was heading home from visiting friends when I heard you yelling to wake the dead. I figured someone needed help.”
His cheeks colored as he blew out a puff of breath in the frosty air. “Sorry about the language. I was a little frustrated.” Plowing through knee deep snow, he rounded the back of the truck and held out a hand. “I’m Fritz, by the way, Fritz Erickson.”
After dropping her pole, she gripped the gloved hand as best she could through her mitten and gave it a firm shake. “Shay Ballard.”
“Nice to meet you, Shay. I don’t suppose you have any kitty litter in your backpack.”
She grinned. “Afraid not. A thermos of hot spiced cider and Christmas cookies aren’t going to be much help, but I do have a suggestion. If we cut some tree bows to place beneath the tire, they might work better for traction than the Santa jacket.”
“I’m willing to try anything at this point. The suit was a last ditch effort after everything else failed.” He lifted one shoulder. “I knew I was taking a risk using this track when it started to snow, but I saw the perfect tree out here when I was visiting last summer.” Even teeth flashed in a smile. “Live and learn. The ultimate Christmas tree might cost me a frigid night spent in the wilderness.”
“I could always come back to get you with a second pair of skis, but I think this method will work if I drive and you push.”
“I’m willing to try anything once.” Hefting the ax, he cut branches from a nearby pine tree. After she pulled out the red jacket and tossed it in the truck bed, he spread the boughs beneath the rear tire.
“Maybe place a few more limbs in front of the tire to get some momentum onto firmer ground. Looks to me like you just got too close to the edge of the road and slipped over the side. The new snow is only about eight inches deep, but there’s a layer of ice at the bottom of that ditch.”
“Figures.” Fritz crawled out from beneath the truck and jerked off his hat to run a hand through pale blond hair before wiping melting snowflakes from lean, tanned cheeks. “A blast of wind sent snow cascading across my windshield, and for a moment I couldn’t see where I was going. I guess it would have been smarter to stop.” He raised one brow. “Ready?”
With those piercing blue eyes topped by a wide brow and hair the color of champagne, he resembled a Norse God. She’d be willing to bet beneath the layers of clothing, he was sporting a physique his Viking ancestors would have killed for.
“Shay?”
“Oh, right.” Her face heated despite the chilly temperature as she snapped out of her skis and leaned them against a tree along with her poles then crossed to the cab. “I’ll ease the truck forward while you push.”
“Sounds good.”
After starting the engine, she gave the truck a little gas then let off the accelerator, trying to create a rocking motion. When the spinning tire caught on the branches, she pressed harder, and the pickup lunged forward. Driving a few yards farther to make sure she was back on the road, she eased to a stop then glanced in the rearview mirror. A laughing snort escaped as Fritz picked himself up off the ground. He was caked in snow from the knit cap all the way down to a pair of sturdy boots.
Leaving the engine idling, she climbed out. “What happened?”
“I was pushing so hard I fell face first when the truck jerked forward.”
“Sorry.”
He glanced up from brushing off his jacket. “I’m not. You saved me from a long, cold night.” His gloved hands wiped down the sides of his jeans. “Uh, can I give you a lift home? It’s starting to get dark, and the snow’s falling faster again.”
Long shadows from the towering evergreens blended with the encroaching darkness. Though it couldn’t be much past four, with the heavy cloud cover she’d be lucky to make it back to her cabin before the last of the daylight faded. “Thanks, I’d appreciate that.”
He strode closer. “Just so you know, I’m not an ax murderer or anything. Getting into a car with a stranger in the middle of nowhere isn’t exactly smart, but—”
Shay held up a hand. “I’m not worried.”
“You’re not?”
She shook her head. “Nope.”
“Why not?” He sounded almost offended.
A little smile curled her lips. “Because it suddenly occurred to me I know who you are.”
“You do?”
       “Sure. You’re my date for Christmas Eve.”

Hope you'll stop by tomorrow for Part Two of Christmas Destiny!


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Sunday, December 21, 2014

"Santa, In Brief" Part 3 of 3, a Christmas Short Story by Rolynn Anderson

“Santa, In Brief”
By Rolynn Anderson
Part 3 of 3
The softness of Nick’s Santa suit drew Emilia, a cushion against a harsh, disappointing world.  But she rose, and instead of resting her head against her golf instructor’s fuzzy collar, she straightened her back.  “I was conned.  When he knew I’d be alone at Christmas, he showed me a picture of his family, his father, mother, and brother, all to join us here, for a week of golf and holiday tourist stuff.”  She paused, considering how Paul had netted her.  “He talked about how close he was to his mother and how she’d always wanted a daughter.”  Emilia swallowed her despair.  “When he added golf lessons, I was hooked.  The carefully wrapped Christmas present was the closer.”  She sighed.  “Maybe he was arrested or he decided it wasn’t safe to claim his package.”
Santa said nothing.
Emilia stepped away, her brain whirling with goals.  “I’ll call an attorney.  A criminal lawyer, here in Palm Springs.  I won’t open the thing until I’ve been given permission, legally, to do so.”  She rubbed her hands together and paced a section of the driving range.  “As soon as I have all that settled, I’ll persuade my father to fly here.  My family agreed to gather in Buffalo for New Year’s instead of Christmas this year, but I’ll explain I’ve changed my mind.  At least I can spend Christmas in Palm Springs with my Dad.”
She closed her eyes, satisfied with her plan.  She’d put Paul in his place, resolved not to feel less of a person because she was duped by a professional con man.  I’m a good woman.  Now, a little wiser.
She opened her eyes to see her rented bag of clubs resting against the bench.
Santa was gone.
“Emilia Gant?”
She turned to the entrance of the pro shop where a bald, slim man stood.  Emilia nodded.  “That’s me.”
“I’m sorry I made you wait out here while I tried to locate Nick.  He just got ahold of me on the phone.  His mother is undergoing some emergency surgery, so he’s on a plane to Wisconsin.  Wants you to know he’ll be back in three days and promises to make good on the lessons.  Apologized for not making his appointment with you today.”
Emilia squinted at the guy, startled at his words.  “But I…”  From behind her came the sound of golf balls plopping into cups, along with the ‘click, click, click’ of driver heads striking teed-up balls on the driving range.  When she turned to look at the six men putting around her and the eight men at their stations on the driving range, she understood she’d only owned the course in her imagination.
The bald man clasped his hands.  “He feels awful, ma’am.  Hopes he didn’t mess up your holiday.”
She smiled.  “Good Saint Nick.”
“Come again?”
“You tell him I’ll take him up on his offer.  And I’ll think good thoughts for his mother’s recovery.”
The memory of Nick’s eyes, so full of hope and compassion, soft, like his Santa suit, lifted the last layer of disappointment from her week in Paris.  She stood by her golf bag, hand on a Santa hat sitting jauntily over her clubs.  “And wish him Merry Christmas.”

The End

Thanks for reading my story.  For more suspense, read LIE CATCHERS, about two cold cases in Petersburg, Alaska.  Check out my books at http://www.rolynnanderson.com


Saturday, December 20, 2014

"Santa, In Brief" Part 2 of 3, a Christmas Short Story by Rolynn Anderson

“Santa, In Brief”
By Rolynn Anderson
Part 2 of 3
Nick pulled his Santa shirtfront in and out, moving air under the warm fabric.  Emilia’s news that she’d transported a package from Paris to Palm Springs for a stranger, would make anyone sweat.
She blinked, fighting tears.  “Gone Boy told me it was a Christmas present.”
He waited for more.
She nodded.  “He played me.  I’m sure of it now.”  She gazed at the empty pathway, aware that Nick, in a most unSanta-like way, was assessing her, from hair to painted toes.  A zing of pleasure took some of the hurt away.
“This isn’t a good time for you to practice golf, Emilia.  I’ll owe you for today; let me know if you want lessons tomorrow,” Nick said as he picked up her clubs and took a step toward the pro shop.
“No,” she said.  “You’re Santa and it’s Christmas.” 
Somehow he understood her point.  “Well, that’s that.  We…uh…” he pointed to a bench. “Let’s sit here.”
She sat angled toward him, yearning for a place on his nice list, even though she was gullible and unsophisticated.
He straightened his fluffy white collar and focused on her eyes.  “Tell me why you think you’re in trouble.”
“Look every gift horse in the mouth.  My dad and my brothers drilled the idea into my head.”
Nick nodded.  “They didn’t want you to get hurt.”
“All three of them chased away every man I brought home.”  She pursed her lips.  “Then I went to Paris.  Perfection.  Three amazing days of buying for next season.  I’m celebrating, alone, in the hotel restaurant, my guidebook open on my right…”
“When Paul comes along.”
“A little older than you and I are, and shorter; darker hair, brown eyes.  Maybe not as handsome as you, but definitely a looker.  Spoke French, yet.  He asks if he can join me for dinner.  Si’l vous plait?”
Nick fingered the shark-teeth edge of his shorts, an unnerved Santa.  “And he offered to show you Paris.”
She nodded.  “My dad and brothers’ voices were in my head saying ‘No!’ but I said ‘Yes.’  Paul was persuasive.”
“From New York, but fluent in French.”
“He never looked me in the eyes, like you do.  Should have been my first clue.”  She opened her palms.  “Still, I felt no discomfort in his presence.  Three days solid of seeing Paris and sharing meals together.  Always in public spaces.  I never went to his room or he to mine.”
“He paid for everything.”
“No.  He didn’t.  I insisted we split expenses.  Until this.  My casita was a Christmas gift; he said he paid for another larger unit for him and his family.”
Nick shifted in his seat. 
Emilia waited for an encouraging word, anything to take her worry and guilt away.

 He stood. “Let’s end the suspense.  You’ve got a Christmas present to open.”

               (Read part 3 of "Santa, In Brief," tomorrow!)

Friday, December 19, 2014

"Santa, In Brief" Part 1 of 3 a Christmas Short Story by Rolynn Anderson


“Santa, In Brief”
By Rolynn Anderson
Part 1 of 3
She’d never seen a Santa suit used in quite that way, but Emilia had never spent Christmas in Palm Springs before, either.
The tall man ambled toward her across the putting green, a young Santa, dressed down for a hot day in the desert.  His bright red shorts came mid-thigh on tanned legs; the matching red shirt was sleeveless, tight on his broad shoulders.  In one bare hand he held a putter; in the other, three golf balls and a Santa hat.  Black cleated shoes, no socks.  Clean-shaven.  Dark brown hair, cut short to manage a pesky whorl on his hairline.  The man’s face was Christmas red, but based on his uneasy expression, it was embarrassment, not heartiness, that made it rosy.
“Ho, whoa,” Emilia said, palm up, recognizing the man from a poster of employees in the pro shop.  She’d skimmed his short bio, learning he was her age, thirty-two, new to Palm Springs, and single.  She read his nameplate.  “You’re Nick, my golf instructor.”
“And you’re Emilia.  Are we missing Paul?”
“I’m Emilia Gant,” she said.  “Paul is my erstwhile boyfriend.  Gone Boy.”  Something about the cut-off Santa suit  lifted Emilia from the depth of her doldrums.  “Nice alteration,” she said focusing on the threads around his armholes flying in the breeze.
Nick shrugged.  “I’m new here and it’s Christmas day, so I have to wear it.  They didn’t say I couldn’t cut it to size and adapt it to 75 degree weather.”  He dropped the balls and the hat on the putting green.  “Emilia, you’ve paid ahead for two students in one hour, so you’ll get two hours of my time.  How’s that?”
“Generous.  Santa-like.”  She glanced at the casita where she was booked for a week, first day spent alone, Paul-less.  In twenty-four hours, he hadn’t called and he wasn’t answering his phone.  Her jet lag, laced with depression, sleeplessness, and disappointment, was a dizzying cocktail.  Even the smell of newly-mown grass, tinged with the pungent odor of fertilizer, made her nauseous.  Thank God, the putting green and driving range were empty, so no one but Nick could witness her unsteadiness.  Figured.  Dinner hour on the day before Christmas: an abandoned woman and a low-ranking golf instructor.  I was a fool to come here.
Emilia leaned on her putter.  “I suddenly have time.  Lots of it.”  She stared at Nick’s face, deciding his piercing green eyes invited her to speak.  He was the kind of man who focused on the person he was talking to.  Was Paul?  No.  Gone Boy’s eyes traveled everywhere during conversations, rarely meeting Emilia’s.  She gave her putter a one-handed swing.  “We’re lucky to spend the holiday in the desert,” she said, tightly.
He hitched his shoulders.  “It’s sleeting in Wisconsin.”
“Raining in Buffalo.”  Emilia concentrated on the bottom of the man’s shorts.  “You used a pinking shears,” Emilia said, pointing at the hem clipped like baby shark teeth.
“When I told my mother I was cutting the legs off a Santa suit, she suggested I use special scissors to keep it from unraveling.”
“Expensive solution.”
“I know.  I went to a sewing store and borrowed a pair.  The women helped me rip the seams on the arms.”
“But you didn’t pink those.”  She reached up to remove an errant thread, but realized she’d be touching his skin.  Her hand changed direction to adjust her visor.
He shifted from one foot to the other.  “I thought it would look dorky on my arms.”
Emilia nodded.  “We can only go so far with mother’s orders.”  She glanced at the empty sidewalk that led golfers from the pro shop to the practice green.  “He isn’t coming,” she said with finality, convincing herself and the teacher that life would now move ahead sans Paul.
“I’m sorry, Emilia.” 
She shrugged.  “He paid for my week here, including breakfast and two hours of lessons a day from Santa Claus.  Why be sorry?”
He chuckled from deep in his belly, a sound so infectious, Emilia laughed too.  His mother taught him joy along with sewing tips.  A vision of Nick cracking jokes with his family around the dinner table came to her imagination, in color.
Nick pointed to her club.  “You can putt.  I’ll bet you’d like to practice a full swing.”
She stared at him.  “How do you know I can putt?”
“The natural way you handle the club.  You’ve golfed, quite a bit, actually.”
Emilia tightened her fingers on the grip.  “Paul said he was a beginner; I told him I’d take lessons with him and polish my game.”
He waited for more, his eyes following hers, a human GPS.
“We met in Paris at the close of my buying trip for a department store.  He’s a financial analyst from New York.  Same hotel in Paris.  We clicked.  He talked me into a desert Christmas with his family.”
Nick was quiet.  Still.  Waiting.  The man must have sisters because he’d learned to listen.  And it made her nervous.  She had a father and two brothers with selective hearing.  Mom?  Silenced forever with cancer when Emilia was ten.
He stuffed balls, hat and putter in her rented bag and lifted it with one hand.  “Let’s go hit some balls named Paul.”
“Hmm.  Not a bad idea.”  She looked down at her black shorts and white and black golf shirt, both bought at the pro shop the day before.  She made a sound of disgust when she eyed her flats.  “What wrong with me?  I don’t have golf shoes.”
 And then she remembered the package that looked like a shoebox.  Paul said, “It’s my Christmas gift to you, Emilia.  But you can’t open it until we’re together in Palm Springs.  You have to promise me not to peek.”
She’d held up her swearing right hand, thinking he’d picked out golf shoes.  True, it wasn’t the most romantic present, but it represented something special they were going to do together.
At his bidding, she’d tucked the package in her checked baggage, already bulging with samples, giddy about opening his gift and her heart at a posh desert resort.  But Paul and his family had never arrived and Emilia found out Paul had paid ahead for only one casita.  The Fort Knox-wrapped box and her heart, remained closed. 
“Emilia?” Nick asked, his eyes exploring her soul.
With a gasp, she came out of the haze she’d been enveloped in for a week, swept up in a Parisian romance.  Desert sun, a gaping golf course and Nick’s penetrating gaze lifted a veil to expose her naiveté.  She stumbled at the curb and righted herself.  When she looked at Nick, his Santa face open, worried, and non-judgmental, tears came to her eyes.  “I screwed up, terribly.”
The concern in his eyes seemed genuine, so she took a breath, reassured.  “I did the one thing a person is never supposed to do.”
“What, Emy.  What did you do?”

The nickname helped her say her next words.  “Paul gave me a package, maybe illegally.”  She pointed to the casita.  “It’s in my room.  And I don’t know what’s inside it.”
Read Part 2 of this story tomorrow!