Deck the Halls by Cynthia Eden



Chapter One


The strains of Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” drifted in the air as Christie Tate tried really, really hard to disappear inside the women’s restroom.

“Did you hear?” The more-than-slightly catty female voice asked from a few feet away.

Christie hunched her shoulders and stared at her heels.

“Charles Crenshaw is already seeing Vicki from accounting. I mean…what’s it been? A week? Two? He and Christie were—”

“I think he was seeing Vicki on the side,” another female voice chimed in, oozing sympathy.

Fake sympathy.

Christie glanced at the gleaming black door, aware of the heat building in her cheeks. Was this what she’d become? A thirty-year-old woman hiding in a bathroom stall? She knew those voices. Marsha Chad, a marketing assistant, was the one with the fake sympathy. And the other one—

“I heard Charles thought Christie was just…boring,” said Lydia Clyde. “I mean the woman’s a genius, but when it comes to men and sex, she’s—”

Enough. Christie’s spine shot up at the same instant her hand slammed into the bathroom door. The door flew forward, and she caught the sound of two feminine gasps.

Her eyes narrowed as she took in the two women. “Lydia. Marsha.” So what if her cheeks were flaming? She wasn’t going to hide in the bathroom another second. Not thirteen anymore. Not the nerdy girl.

“Christie.” Lydia’s blue eyes bulged. “I didn’t realize you were—”

Christie jerked the faucet on and washed her hands. “For the record…” She lifted her head and met her own gaze in the mirror. Backbone, girl, backbone. How many times had she heard her mother say that over the years? Don’t ever let them see you break. “Sex with me is never boring.” She saw their jaws drop. Good. Great. She kept her chin up, kept her back straight, and with really fast steps, Christie was able to escape that hellhole.

And trade it for another one.

Christie burst from the women’s restroom and walked straight into the full-on madness that was the annual Christmas party for Tate Toys. Bright lights. Elaborate bows. Mechanical toys—trains and soldiers—that marched across the floor. Christmas trees. So many giant, colorful Christmas trees. Normally, she would have loved the sight, but right then, she just wanted to escape.

She sucked in a sharp breath and tasted pine. Christie glanced to her left and found her ex, Charles, arguing with Vicki under a giant piece of mistletoe. The pretty redhead’s hair tumbled down her back as she shook her head at Charles, then she jabbed a finger into his chest. Trouble in paradise?

I think he was seeing Vicki on the side. Lydia’s voice whispered through Christie’s mind.

Jerk.

A waiter sidled by her. Christie grabbed a flute of champagne and drained it in one gulp. Elvis kept singing.

Can’t get much bluer than this, buddy.

She marched forward, putting more distance between her and Charles. Can’t attack. Because that wouldn’t be classy. A lady couldn’t go up and jump on her ex’s back as she started to pound the crap out of him. A good girl wouldn’t do that. She’d been raised to be a good girl. Good girls became ladies, right?

But she was damn tired of being good. Damn tired of being gossiped about. Damn tired of it all.

Even tired of Elvis. And she loved the King.

Christie maneuvered through the crowd, stopping only to pick up a few more glasses of champagne. Oh, but that bubbly went down nice and fast. Some folks tried to talk to her, but if they didn’t have a tray of champagne flutes near them, she kept going.

Kept going until…

Until she reached the giant black chair that waited in the middle of the room. Santa’s chair.

Presents wrapped in red and green paper surrounded the massive chair. Small surprise gifts for all the staff at Tate Toys. Santa would be coming soon. He’d be there to hear all their Christmas wishes. There to make those wishes come true.

Christie’s fingers tightened on a champagne flute. Then she caught a glimpse of Santa, and she spilled the rest of her champagne over the front of her red reindeer sweater.

Wow.

Santa was a stud.

Christie swallowed as she got a good look at the jolly old elf. Santa stood just inside the doorway of Tate Toys, a thick, red sack flung over his left shoulder—and what a nice shoulder it was. Actually, Santa had two nice shoulders. Nice, wide, broad shoulders that more than filled the red coat he wore.