“You shot me in the ass! I’m trying to romance you and you shoot me? What kind of woman does that, Sugar?”
When did he start calling her Sugar? Well, there were those few times at the station when he held the door open for her or brought her a cup of coffee. “I didn’t mean to, Cole. I fell. Are you okay?”
“Would you be okay with a bullet in your butt?”
She wiped the blood from her forehead with the sleeve of her pink robe. Evidently she’d scraped it pretty hard against the bricks when she tripped. White feathers drifted over her, and she blew them off her face.
“Cole, are you padded with pillows?”
“Some. The Santa suit I rented was too big. Could you stop talking about my behind and get me out of here? Please?”
Then Shelby noticed the falling feathers were increasingly covered with blood. Oh dear, she had hit him. “I’m going for my stepstool so I can reach your boots.” She slid out of the fire box and stood, the room swaying just a bit. “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back.”
“So help me, when I get my hands on you…”
“You need classes in anger management, detective.” She stumbled for a few steps and then straightened herself. Returning with her folding stepstool, she reached the top step, stood on her tiptoes, and reached his toes. She pulled and tugged. “It’s no good. I can’t get a good enough grip. I’m too short.”
He didn’t respond, A whooshing sound of sheer fear roared through her head. Was he unconscious? “Let’s sing some Christmas songs, shall we?” She began her off-tune singing of “Here Comes Santa Claus.” There was a faint groan and an uncalled for remark about her not giving up her day job. This man needed medical care and fast. Her hand shook when she fished in her robe’s pocket for her cell phone and dialed a number.
“Nine-one-one. What’s your emergency?”
“George? It’s Shelby Hayes. I have an officer down.” She glanced at the pile of ever-increasing feathers. “Or, officer up situation. There’s a detective stuck in my chimney.”
“A detective? As in police detective? In your chimney? Uh-huh.” The suspicion in his voice made her feel as if he thought she’d been drinking her Christmas cheer.
“Yes. Cole Danfield. He’s stuck in my chimney, dressed like Santa, and I shot him in the butt. He had a cushion shoved in his suit, so I don’t know how badly he’s wounded, but the feathers are getting redder. I can’t reach his boots to…”
George’s boisterous laughter caused her to jerk the phone a few inches away from her ear. “Are…are you telling me you’ve shot our hotshot…pardon the pun…ahahaha…detective in the backside of the body he spends hours in the weight room keeping in shape? Bwahahaha. Little ole you?”
“Tell that blowhard not to put you down, Sugar.” A voice bellowed behind her and she jumped. She’d feared Cole was unconscious. “Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with your aim. It figures, doesn’t it? Ten years on the force, building up my reputation and one Santa suit ruins it all. I’ll never live this down.”
She hadn’t expected Cole to rise to her defense like that, especially with her bullet lodged in his nether regions. She pinched her eyes shut as she imagined just where. “Look, George, I have an actual emergency! I need an ambulance and emergency crew sent to four-twenty-nine Alpine Street to help pull this overstuffed Santa out of my chimney. Don’t make me speak to your superior.” She ended the call.
“If I don’t hear sirens in ten minutes, I’m calling George-the-Giggler back and I won’t be very nice.” Shelby peered up the chimney. “How is your pain level?”
“On a scale of one to ten?” he barked. “Twelve.”
He sounded livid, which worried Shelby. “I thought since you stood up for me, you weren’t angry at me.”
“Sugar, I’m angry all right, but no one gets to growl you, except for me. To be truthful, I’m more upset with myself. I should have hung the stocking from your doorknob, but I wanted you to have the surprise of finding something special on your mantel. I overheard you say you wouldn’t see any family this year, that your parents were gone and your sister wasn’t speaking to you. I didn’t want you to spend Christmas thinking no one cared.”
She wiped her bleeding forehead again. “You’re a very kind man, even with a bullet in your bottom. My younger sister never forgave me when I got my dad’s sports car in a silent bidding process between the two of us. That Camaro nearly wiped out my savings.” She wiped at tears. “And cost me my sister. Her husband wanted the car, you see.” Sirens pierced the silence of the night. She rushed to open her front door and turn on her outside lights. “Help is here, Cole.”
“Wait, Sugar! What are you wearing?”
She pivoted toward her fireplace. “What? What difference does it make?”
“Is it something sexy?”
Shelby’s jaw dropped. Maybe the bullet had lodged in his brain instead of his buns. An ambulance sat in her driveway, cop cars were careening in from every direction, and Detective Santa wanted to get kinky? She was about to tell him worn flannel pajamas and an ancient terrycloth robe with frayed cuffs when somehow the words, “A red lace teddy,” tumbled from her lips. Really, what did a man expect a woman, who lived alone, to sleep in?
“Quick, run and change! Or wrap yourself in a blanket!”
Cole was yanking her chain and she didn’t like it. “Why? I look good in this? I bought it especially for the holidays. It even has white fur pompoms in all the strategic places.” She could do a little chain jerking, herself.
EMT’s jogged up her sidewalk, equipment in hand. A few lights snapped on in the vicinity of her house. Some neighbors’ questioning voices filtered through the air. She stepped away from the door and pointed to the feather-covered hearth. “He’s up there.”
Six or seven policemen filled her small living room, each one firing off questions as to why she’d shot an officer. Did she realize the trouble she was in? Her head snapped from one cop to another as she tried to answer their many questions. Yet, her gaze kept sliding toward her fireplace. How was Cole?
After checking her chimney, one EMT ran for a short stepladder. In a matter of minutes amid much groaning and cussing and soot floating through her living room, the EMTs had Cole flat on the stretcher on his stomach. One cut away the red soaked Santa pants and extricated the pillow while the other EMT checked Cole’s vitals.
His soot covered beard and mustache were now an impromptu wig. Shelby kneeled in front of the gurney. “I’m going to take off your beard. Tell me if I hurt you.” He grunted and she pulled on the ruined whiskers. “Cole, I’m so sorry. It was an accident.”
“What happened to your forehead?” His soot-covered face wrinkled in concern.
“I tripped over the bricks at the hearth.” She stood and lifted her foot to show him her puppy bedroom slippers. “Dumb slippers. I lost my balance, fell into the area you put the logs, hit my head on the bricks and that’s when the gun went off.”
The policeman who’d taken charge of the nerve-wracking interrogation stepped between her and Cole. “You want to tell me what happened here, Detective?”
“An accident, pure and simple. She’s a woman who lives alone. The gun is registered. Hell, I taught her how to shoot it. She tripped over the hearth and it went off. An accident. No charges are to be filed against her. Do I make myself clear?” Cole reached for her with his hand and she took it. The officer shot a glance between the two, shook his head, and escorted the rest of the policemen out.
“Thanks for sticking up for me.”
Cole grinned. “Just the facts, ma’am.”
Once the EMT working on the bullet wound pressed gauze pads over Cole’s cute behind. Shelby’s gaze followed the medic’s movements and snatched a visual fill of the detective’s naked buns. Ohhh, Merry Christmas to me!
Cole’s hold on her hand tightened. “Hey! Eyes front and center.”
Her gaze snapped back to his and she grinned. “Sorry. I couldn’t resist.”
“And here I thought you were the shy type. Medic, Ms. Hayes needs some medical attention. She hit her head pretty hard on the fireplace. And, for gawd’s sake, don’t ask her to sing.”