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Coming Soon!

At last! The long-promised trilogy of Christmas novellas is officially coming in November '22.

More details will be coming soon, but in the meantime, here is a very sneaky peek.

 

Sneak Peek

Christmas Novella #1, Chapter 1

I was sweating in my elf costume – not because it was too hot in the office, but because I always sweated when I was about to throttle someone.

Right now, that someone happened to be my stupidly attractive boss – the grump who just two weeks ago had rolled into the company like a giant ball of ice, leaving a trail of wintery destruction in his wake.

From behind his massive desk, he asked, "Is there a problem?"

He was sitting. I was standing.

Good.

If he were standing too, I'd have to crane my neck to stare up at him – as if I were a real Christmas elf and not a costume-wearing, eggnog sipping, carol-singing substitute.

But I wasn't singing now.

And the eggnog? Well, let's just say it wasn't sitting so great in my stomach. His fault. Not mine. The eggnog had settled well enough until ten minutes ago when my Grinch of a boss had shown up out of the blue to ruin everything.

Still I forced a smile. "What you just did out there – you weren't serious, were you?" By "out there," I meant outside his office, where the holiday festivities had screeched to a sudden halt thanks to you-know-who.

"Lexie." He didn't smile back. "Do I look like I'm joking?"

I studied his face and wanted to groan at the injustice. He should look like a goblin. But he did he?

No. Of course not. He had thick chestnut-colored hair and dark brooding eyes – the kind of eyes that might've put me on Santa's naughty list if only they didn't belong to him.

Forget the pretty packaging. On the inside, the guy had been a huge disappointment, like a dog turd wrapped in a fancy gift box. Sure, you could open the thing, but would you really want to?

As the silence stretched out between us, it slowly dawned on me that his question hadn't been rhetorical. I cleared my throat. "Well, you could be joking."

He gave me a look. "I don't 'joke' about personnel matters."

Probably, he didn't joke about anything. Even if he did have a funny bone, which I seriously doubted, it was lodged so far up his butt, it was a wonder he could sit without grimacing.

But I digress.

Cole Henster wasn't just my boss. He was the new owner of Winterville Chocolates, a gourmet candy company that specialized in holiday treats. Rumor had it, the guy owned a bunch of other businesses, too, including a local brewery and the area's largest marina.

I swear, the guy had his fingers in everyone. A flash of heat seared my skin, and I stiffened with annoyance.

No. Not every one. Every thing.

Big difference, right?

Stupid fingers.

I turned to study his office door, the one I'd shut just before approaching his desk. Beyond that door, the executive suite was dead silent – well now anyway.

I looked back to my boss and tried to laugh. The sound came out all wrong, like a candy cane caught in a blender. "But…you just fired Santa."

He didn't even blink. "No. I fired Fred."

As usual, he was missing the point. "But he was dressed as Santa." The only upside was that no kids had been around to see Santa getting the ol' holiday heave-ho.

Fred Grampkin had been all Santa'd up not for local children, but to help make our semi-annual holiday party just a little more festive – well, until Fred was fired, that is.

My boss replied, "So?"

"So…" Did I dare say it? I took a long, steadying breath before telling him, "You shouldn't have done that."

He leaned back in his chair. "Says who?"

"Everyone." At the memory of what I'd just witnessed, I wanted to scream in outrage. Fred hadn't merely been fired. He'd been hustled out by security, Santa bag and all. "And besides, you weren't due back until Monday."

I should know. I was Cole Henster's executive assistant – the one who answered his work phone and kept his schedule. I sat at a desk just outside his office, where over the past two weeks, I'd had a front-row seat to all kinds of cruelty, mostly to former employees.

I say former because way too many of them were now gone, whether because they'd quit in protest or because they'd been outright fired like Fred Grampkin – a guy who, until two weeks ago, had actually run the company.

This office used to be his until he'd been shuffled off to a basement cubicle like some entry-level lackey instead of what he was -- the guy whose grandfather had founded Winterville Chocolates over seven decades ago.

In front of me, Mister Henster – aka "the Monster" as I liked to call him – gave me a long, chilly look as he took in my green Santa hat and matching green dress with its shiny black belt and festive red trim.

The dress was short but hardly obscene. Like a good little elf, I'd added thick candy cane leggings and ditched the high heels in favor of flat green elf shoes, the kind that curled up at the toes.

Under his silent scrutiny, I felt color rise to my cheeks. Even I realized that I looked slightly ridiculous, especially at this time of year when some might say it was a tad early to break out the eggnog.

But hey, it was a company tradition – one that had started long before this guy had shown up.

He steepled his fingers. "Go on."

Go on with what? My gaze bounced around his office before returning to his hands. His fingers were long, straight, and very limber, judging from the way he twirled his pen sometimes when he was thinking.

Whenever this happened, it always got me thinking, too, but never about business.

I stammered, "I just mean…you were supposed be in Grand Rapids. You know. For that all-day meeting?"

He frowned. "And you were supposed to be working."

My jaw dropped. "And I wasn't?"

It just went to show how clueless the guy was. I'd been employed at Winterville for over three years now, and part of my job was to help organize these holiday events. It was a lot of work, for me in particular.

Yes, we called it a party, but it wasn't all fun and games. Sure, we had contests and prizes along with Christmas music, catered hors d'oeuvres and cookies galore, but we also had team-building workshops, motivational speakers, and updates on our company's progress.

The event was like a big Christmas train, loaded up with children and toys and maybe a few reindeer, too. Once it got going, it had lots of momentum, which meant that it couldn't be stopped on a dime just because the company had come under new ownership.

And besides, it's not like my new boss had tried to stop it. If he had, I would've known, just like I knew that he liked his coffee black, his phone answered promptly, and his office several degrees colder than was necessary.

He said, "You tell me."

Oh, I'd tell him, alright. "For your information, I was working."

His mouth tightened. "Not on what I gave you."

I felt my own mouth tighten in response. "Excuse me?"

"The regional sales report. You were supposed to compile it. Did you?"

"No. But only because I didn't have all the pieces."

This was true. After all, I wasn't writing the report. I was only compiling it. I couldn't compile what I didn't have. Of the five regional managers, only two had provided the necessary data.

Looking decidedly unimpressed, he asked, "Did you follow up?"

"With who?"

Through gritted teeth, he replied, "With the owners of the 'missing pieces.'"

I bit my lip. See, here's the thing. Here at Winterville Chocolates, we had a certain culture – one that had served the company just fine for seven decades – or so I'd heard.

Sure, I'd been working here for only a fraction of that time, but I'd learned the hard way that it was against company culture to nag someone before the actual due date.

I reminded my boss, "You only assigned it two days ago."

"Right. And it was due today." He gave my costume another long, scornful look. "But instead, you decided to play dress-up."

My eyes narrowed as I coldly informed him, "I wasn't playing dress-up. I was working, just like I said."

Looking more annoyed than curious, he asked, "On what?"

As if he didn't know. "The event." I didn't dare call it a party, not now, when he was giving me that look.

With a low scoff, he replied, "Not my event."

"Yeah, but it's a tradition." My voice rose ever so slightly. "And it's been on the calendar for months."
And then there was the thing I didn't say. You've only been here for two weeks.

From the look on his face, he knew exactly what I was thinking.

Before he could object, I continued. "So I'm just saying, if you didn't want the event to happen, you could've cancelled it."

"Who says I didn't?"

I shook my head. "But you couldn't have. If you had, I would've known." Cripes, everyone would have known. It's not like it was a surprise party.

Sure, it had ended with a surprise, but only because the master of ceremonies had been tossed to the curb like a dried-up Christmas tree.

My boss asked, "You sure about that?"

"Of course I'm sure. I see you every day, and you never mentioned it."

Once again, his gaze flicked over my costume. "Yeah, well maybe I didn't know you were so involved."

"How could you not know? I sit right outside your office."

He gave his door a pointed look. "Not now, you're not."

Right. Because I was standing in here, uninvited.

But I couldn't give up now. Fred Grampkin had hired me fresh out of college. Sure, the pay wasn't terrific, and I had no decent health insurance, but I loved my job. I loved chocolate. I loved my coworkers. And I had loved working for Fred.

He was soft and jolly, unlike the guy sitting at Fred's former desk. This new boss was so hard, he made rock candy look squishy in comparison.

But it wasn't this contrast that made me dig in my heels like a reindeer skidding on a rooftop. It was the principle of the thing. I was loyal to a fault, and if no one else was going to plead Fred's case, it was up to me and me alone.

It was in that moment that I made a decision.

I was going to fight this thing to the death – not physical death, but the death of my job, because jobs were replaceable, but loyalty wasn't.

To this new guy, I had no loyalty. I didn't even like him. No one did.

I squared my shoulders and gave him a chilly look of my own. "But you didn't have to fire him -- or at least not like that."

His fingers visibly flexed. "That's one opinion, not mine."

"And you never even told him why."

By now, Cole Henster's jaw looked so tight, it was a wonder he could speak at all. "Trust me, he knows."

Hah! As if I'd ever trust a guy like him.

But I had trusted Fred Grampkin, so like Santa's sleigh, I kept on going. "And you fired him right there at the Christmas party – I mean the Christmas event."

"So?"

"So don't you think that's kind of…" I crossed my arms. "Grinchy?"

He paused for a long ominous moment before saying, "Tell me something."

"What?"

"What month is it?"

I gave a little wince. "Right now? It's um, July, actually."

He gave my costume a pointed look. "You sure about that?"

I jerked my chin upward and winced yet again as the silvery bell on the end of my hat gave a pathetic little jingle. "Of course I'm sure."

And I was.

Back when I'd been new to the company, sure, it had felt a little odd to plan a Christmas party in July. That first year in particular I'd been horrified to learn that I would be expected to dress up and play the part of Santa's elf in the middle of summer.

But now, after three relatively happy years at Winterville Chocolates, the tradition had grown on me. And besides, the event wasn't nearly as far-fetched as my new boss made it sound.

With as much dignity as I could muster, I said, "Surely you've heard the phrase, 'Christmas in July'." According to company lore, the tradition had started ten years ago, when Fred Grampkin had been looking to boost morale during the summer slump.

Last year, he'd even hired circus performers dressed as elves for the meeting's grand finale. At the memory, I felt a wistful sigh escape my lips.

Last year felt like a lifetime ago.

Slowly, my new boss pushed back his chair and stood. At something in his eyes, my stomach twisted, and the eggnog within gave a dangerous little gurgle.

Was I about to be fired?

Probably.

After all, he'd fired Fred for merely wearing a Santa suit.

But I refused to cower. So instead, I looked up and met his gaze head-on. Your move, Monster Man.

Finally, in a dangerously low voice, he said, "Look, you've got two options. Either accept it or move on. Your choice."

I swallowed. "Move on?"

He glanced toward the door. "If you want to quit, now's your chance."

My mouth opened, but no sound came out. No eggnog either. So that was good, right?

On a less cheery note, I didn't want to quit. Not really.

But someone had to take a stand, if only to prove that some people valued loyalty over money. "Fine," I said. "Then I quit." And with that, I turned and jingled out of his office, praying that I would never, ever see his face again.

It was such a pretty thought – except it didn't turn out that way. Not exactly.

(End of Sneak Peek)