This was the last place she expected to spend Christmas. The cell door clanged shut. Footsteps grew fainter as her only hope of release walked away.
Mia Carroll’s hands tightened around the bars. “It’s just a huge misunderstanding, honest.”
“That’s what they all say.”
The deputy didn’t even glance over his shoulder to answer. With a solid thud, the outer door closed, sealing her fate.
“Well it is.”
Flipping the pom-pom dangling from her hat out of her eyes, she turned slowly and let out a breath. Her seating choices consisted of a dull mental bench with a plastic covered pad or the floor. A brown stain spread across the speckled tile from the far corner toward the door. With a shudder, she picked option number one and perched on the edge. Legs crossed, she tapped her toe.
“You might as well sit back and relax. No one around here seems to be in a hurry tonight.”
“What?” Her head snapped toward the adjacent holding cell in this two-bit excuse for a sheriff’s station.
Black booted feet extended from red velvet pant legs. A fluffy white beard and wig lay in a heap beside an overstuffed pillow on the disgusting floor beneath his bench. The owner of the voice propped himself against the cinderblock wall and smiled.
The smile—along with a strong jaw, straight nose and sparkling hazel eyes beneath a thatch of overlong brown hair topped by a red hat—almost made the humiliation of being arrested worthwhile. Almost.
Despite her situation, she smiled back. “What did they bust you for, Santa? Did one of your reindeer relieve himself on someone’s lawn?”
His grin widened to reveal gleaming white teeth. “Breaking and entering.”
Her heart stopped for a moment before continuing at double its normal pace. So he was incredibly good-looking. He was also a self-admitted criminal. No point in getting herself all hot and bothered. She took a deep breath.
“Isn’t that part of your job description?”
“You’d think. Too bad the cops don’t have your sense of humor.” His gaze left hers, dropped then heated. “I can’t believe you couldn’t talk your way out of here.”
She gave the lacy neckline of her elf costume a tug. Yep, the jury was in. She’d officially lost her mind when she agreed to wear the damned thing. Between the skirt that barely covered—well, anything—and the fishnet stockings… She let out a breath.
“I didn’t do anything wrong. At least not intentionally. It was all a huge mistake.”
“This should be good.” He lifted broad, velvet-covered shoulders in a shrug. “Obviously I’m not going anywhere. Do tell.”
She studied him for a long moment. “Talking to a total stranger you’ve just met in jail probably isn’t the smartest move. Then again, if I were making wise choices these days, I wouldn’t be here.”
He inched forward on his bench and stuck one hand through the bars separating their cells. “Christopher Noble. You can call me Kit.”
Long, blunt tipped fingers. Clean nails. With trepidation she placed her palm in his. The big hand closed, squeezed and shook. Tingles shot through her. Heat started at her exposed cleavage and crept up her neck.
Slowly he released her.
With an effort, she spit out her name. “Mia Carroll. I’d say it’s a pleasure to meet you, but under the circumstances…”
The grin flashed again.
“Now that we’ve been properly introduced, let’s hear your tail of woe. I do love a good story.” He leaned back and wrapped his arms around his knees. “What are you in for—not that I can’t guess?”
Her brows snapped together. “Okay, smart guy. Give it your best shot.”
Her eyes widened. “Do I look like a prostitute?”
“Uh, do you really want me to answer that?”
She let out a long sigh. “Maybe not. You’re right anyway. I propositioned a cop. Big mistake. I thought he was someone else.”
“I believe that’s their goal. Wouldn’t be much point if they announced their profession.”
She scowled. “I bet you’re the kind of guy who laughs at his own jokes. Even the dumb ones.”
He nodded. “I like really silly sit-coms too, and bloopers and knock-knock jokes and limericks. Especially limericks. Why be serious when you can smile?”
“Sounds like the philosophy of a six-year-old.”
He laughed out loud, a deep rumble that slid along her nerve endings.
“I’ll take that as a compliment. So, why did you solicit a cop?”
“The story won’t make sense if I don’t give you a bit of background. First off, I don’t live here. I’m visiting a friend for the holidays.”
“We have that in common. I’m spending Christmas with my brother and his family. They moved to Connecticut recently from New York.”
“Is that where you’re from?”
“God, no. I live in Vermont. This place is a thriving metropolis compared to my backwoods shack.”
“You don’t sound like you’re from the sticks.”
“What does a person from the sticks sound like?”
“I don’t know. You’re distracting me. Do you want to hear what happened or not?”
“Sorry. My lips are zipped.”
“My old college roommate invited me up for a few days—”
“Up? Up from where?”
“Up, down, over—does it matter?” Her eyes narrowed. “I swear—”
“Sorry.” He ran a finger across his lips. “Continue.”
“Her boyfriend’s been acting weird. She thinks he might be cheating on her, or at least scouting out other options.”
“I say dump his ass.”
“That was my thought. Where there’s smoke…” She shrugged. “Still, she’s not one hundred percent sure. That’s where I came in.”
“Huh? I don’t get it.”
“They were invited to a Christmas party, a costume affair. My job was to proposition the boyfriend to see if he’d take the bait.”
His gaze drifted from her face downward, and his throat worked as he swallowed. “Poor guy. If he’s the cheating sort, he didn’t stand a chance.”
She gave the neckline another tug. “Reba, my friend, rented the costume. I almost backed out when I saw it.”
Rolling her eyes, she tried to cover her thighs with the spangled skirt—and failed. “Before she headed to the ladies room to hide out, Reba told me her boyfriend would be dressed as a mime. Too bad he arrived late. The off-duty deputy attending the party was also dressed as a mime. I spotted him about two minutes after Reba walked away. Maybe I got a little carried away in my performance…” Mia ran a hand through her short hair, knocking the pointy cap askew. She tossed it on the bench and grimaced. “Next thing I knew, the mime was reading me my rights.”
“Wow. That’s almost better than my story. Is your friend going to post your bail?”
She gave him a sharp glance. “Reba’s out there arguing with the sheriff now. What do you mean your story’s better?”
He spread his arms wide. “I’m dressed as Santa, for crying out loud. Didn’t you think the suit came with a story?”
“You said you were busted for breaking and entering. I assumed you were lightening someone’s load under their Christmas tree. By the way, that really sucks. If you’re broke—”
“Who says I’m broke?” His voice rose. “I may not be a billionaire, but I don’t live under a bridge either.”
“Geez, what happened to Mr. Fun and Games? Let’s hear your version of the Santa Claus caper.”
Visit tomorrow for Part Two of Santa and the Elf. Find information on all my books on my website.