Kit couldn’t believe his luck. What were the chances he’d get tossed in jail with the hottest…elf…he’d ever had the pleasure of meeting. With Mia Carroll in the cell next door, he’d be content to stay in lockup until New Years.
Fingers snapped. “Hello. Let’s hear your story, Mr. Claus.”
He let out a long breath. “When my brother and I were kids, our uncle played Santa every Christmas. Of course we didn’t know he was our uncle, not until we got older.” A smile curved his lips. “Great memories. Anyway, Scott has two sons, a three and a five-year-old, the perfect age to feel the Christmas magic. I decided to start my own awesome uncle tradition.”
Her brows rose. “You broke into their house?”
He winced. “I wish. My brother told me their new home was at the end of Azalea Lane and to be sure I went to the right one because you can’t see the street numbers. Problem was, the cell reception was crappy. I thought he said the house on the right.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. “I got a late start. Then my car overheated. Parts stores aren’t open on Christmas Eve so it took forever to replace the thermostat. It was late by the time I finally arrived. The two houses at the end of the street look nearly identical, and of course I went to the one on the right.”
“Yeah. Oh oh. Turns out this grumpy old man lives in the one on the right. I was on his roof in full Santa regalia when he came outside with a shotgun. He held it on me until the police arrived.”
She grinned. “Your story’s definitely better than mine. Is your brother a big guy, looks like he could bench press a reindeer?”
“There’s a reason I stay on Scott’s good side.”
“Your brother was out there having a rather loud discussion with the original Ebenezer Scrooge the whole time the officer who brought me in was booking me. To his credit, your brother barely glanced at my outfit.”
“He must be slipping. He’s married, not dead.”
Mia laughed. “You know, I’m glad you aren’t a real criminal.”
His gaze held hers. “This night turned out a lot better than I expected.”
Down the hall, the metal door opened. Footsteps approached.
“Do you think one of us is getting out of here?”
His heart dropped into his black boots. “You’d leave me in here all alone on Christmas Eve?”
“What makes you so sure I’m the one who’ll be sprung?”
“Honey, my guess is this town has never seen anyone quite like you. I don’t stand a chance against those fishnet stockings.”
The officer stopped outside the bars and popped his gum. “You’re both outta here.” He unlocked the cell doors. “Let’s go.”
Kit made a sweeping gesture. “After you.”
Mia turned at the end of the hall and smiled. “Merry Christmas, Santa.”
“Don’t run off. I’d like to see you again.”
“Keep your eyes open.” She sauntered through the doorway. “You may just get your wish.”
Kit tucked his hands into the front pocket of his sweatshirt and ran a little faster, his breath puffed white in the frigid air. Up ahead, laughter and the sound of voices carried through the approaching dusk. A crowd gathered at the outdoor skating rink near the edge of the park, kids and their parents working off too-large, early holiday dinners. When the cheerful chatter quieted and the ice cleared, he frowned and detoured over to see what was happening.
In the center of the rink a woman twirled. Short, dark hair whipped around a pixie face with big doe eyes. Arms curved upward in a graceful arc, she came out of the spin to skate fast then jump into the air. His heart stopped as she turned once, twice, three times before landing on one foot. The crowd cheered and applauded. She skated for several more minutes, performing for an enraptured audience before gliding to the rail and stopping—right next to Kit.
The elf—Mia—smiled. “Told you to keep your eyes open.”
Open? They’d nearly popped out of his head. She wore black spandex—and wore it well. The bodysuit hugged every curve. He nearly wept when she reached for a puffy down jacket hanging over the railing and slipped it on.
Swallowing, he opened his mouth, closed it then opened it again. “Wow. Why’d you stop?”
“Because I want everyone else to have fun, and they wouldn’t have if I’d stayed out there.”
“Watching you was—fun.”
“I enjoyed giving them a show, not to mention I needed the exercise after all that turkey, but enough is enough.”
He cleared his throat. “You’re really good.”
She cast him a duh look. “I’d hope so. It’s how I make—made—my living.”
“I don’t get it. What do you mean?”
“I skate—skated—in ice shows all around the country.”
She grimaced and leaned on the railing. “I just quit. Five years of living like a nomad was enough. It’ll be nice to actually have a home address for a change.”
He touched the freezing rail and burned his fingertips. “I’m tired of having bars between us. Can we go somewhere to talk?”
“Sure. I’m avoiding my friend’s house while she and her boyfriend hash out their problems. Company would be nice.” She ducked beneath the barrier. “They sell hot chocolate at the booth over there.”
“Since I’m turning into a popsicle, that sounds great.”
“Let me take off my skates first.”
Once she was shod in suede boots, they walked side-by-side to the booth, elbows bumping. Kit ordered two hot chocolates and paid for them, thankful he’d stuffed a handful of bills into his sweatpants before leaving for his run. Finding an unoccupied bench beneath a big elm tree, they sat and sipped the steaming liquid.
“So, where’s your new home address now that you’re finished skating?”
She lifted one shoulder. “I don’t know yet. A bunch of my stuff is at my parent’s home on the Hudson, not too far from the city, and I have clothes at both my sisters’ houses. My only home is an apartment in Manhattan I sublease for most of the year. I told the current resident he can have it for good.”
“What’re you going to do?”
“Maybe teach skating. I’d never be able to not skate. I haven’t decided where I plan to settle yet.”
He wrapped his slowly warming fingers around the Styrofoam cup. “There’s an ice rink in the town closest to my humble shack.”
A grin flashed. “Oh yeah?”
“Maybe they could use a teacher.”
“Hmm. Where’s your shack if not in the town?”
“In the woods. Trees are my thing.”
Her deep brown gaze slid leisurely from his head to his feet, pausing a few times along the way. Heat surged through him that had nothing to do with steaming hot chocolate.
“You don’t look like a monkey.”
He smiled. “Good to know. Not just any old trees. Maple trees—as in maple syrup.”
“Yum. You make it?”
“From tree to jug. It’s a whole process.”
He took the empty cup from her hand and tossed both in a nearby trash container then twined her fingers through his. “Want to take a walk? I need to warm up.”
Her phone trilled.
“Hold that thought.” She pulled the cell from her jacket with her free hand, read the text then stuffed it back into her pocket.
“I hope that call doesn’t mean you have to go.”
“I’m afraid it does.”
“Well, damn. Just—damn.”
Visit tomorrow for the conclusion of Santa and the Elf. Find information on all my books on my website.