Santa Baby by Taylor Lee-#mgtab

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I was delighted to join 20 best-selling authors to create the Love, Christmas, Box Set, a gift to our readers and everyone who loves Christmas. Each of the twenty never-before published Novellas in the collection is a tribute to a special Christmas song. What could be more Christmasy? We even had a contest asking readers to choose their favorite Holiday song. JoAnn Varner participated in our Love, Christmas Box Set contest and I am honored to dedicate my story, Santa Baby, to her!

I’ve always gotten a kick out of Eartha Kitt’s rendition of Santa Baby, a sultry ode to Christmas materialism. As she ticks off the list of Christmas goodies she hopes to receive from Santa, I smile at her brazenness.

In my story, I took the song Santa Babyand turned it on its head. My heroine is a young woman with a four year old child on the run from a crime she didn’t commit. Rather than wishing for all the things the singer wants under her Christmas tree, my heroine just hopes she can somehow manage to get a tree. And more important that she can stay one step ahead of the dangerous man closing in on her and her daughter.

As you can see from the cover, my heroine does the only thing she can to make money—yep, she’s a stripper. But no fears, this is a distinctly Happy Ever After Christmas story. However, it does take a hard look at the people who are not wishing for “things” for Christmas, rather praying that they can somehow protect their children and themselves from harm.

A Teaser from my Santa Baby story:

Dancing to Eartha Kitt ticking off all the goodies she wants her Santa Baby to put under her tree, Lily slid down the stripper pole and stifled a sigh A blue convertible? A sable? A Tiffany ring? Right! Like Lily could expect anything remotely like that under her tree! How about first making sure she had a tree.
At that moment she saw him. The big man with the shaggy blond hair and gleaming dark eyes, was leaning casually back in his chair. His narrowed expression was hard, knowing. It was clear that he was studying her. Stunned, Lily quickly looked away, her carefully honed rules fleeing in her panic. The imposing man had “cop” written all over him. Squashing down her terror, Lily pasted a professional smile on her face, waved to the screaming crowd, and fled the stage.

• Anyone who’d ever tangled with dirty cops knew that the hard blue line protected the most egregious acts committed by one of their brothers. If anyone doubted that was true all they had to know was that Aiden was a free man and Lily was on the run.
• Lily’s only hope was that this time she and Gabriella had gone far enough, fast enough, that he wouldn’t be able to find them.
• If he was any judge of women who shed their clothes for a living, and Zach most certainly was, he recognized her startled wide-eyed expression. He’d seen it far too many times in his line of work. It was fear, pure and simple.
• The Vice Cop reminded himself all that meant was that the beautiful woman had something big to hide.

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Chapter 1 Excerpt – 2016 Love, Christmas – Grown Up Christmas List by @DonnaFaz #mgtab

Welcome to Authors’ Billboard and the Sneak Peek at my contribution to the Love, Christmas bundle. Love, Christmas will launch this fall, just a few short months from now. Grown Up Christmas List will be dedicated to reader Leann Griffiths. Congrats, Leann, for winning the Authors’ Billboard Love, Christmas Rafflecopter! I want to send out a huge thank you to the thousands of readers who entered. And now, on to the Sneak Peek:

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GROWN UP CHRISTMAS LIST

Excerpt from Chapter One

Lively strains of Christmas music floated from somewhere in the rafters as Dina Griffin let her gaze rove over the rows of shampoo bottles lining the shelf. Lemon yellow, bright purple, jarring chartreuse, the plastic containers came in a rainbow of colors, each competing to catch the eye of shoppers. There were products that guaranteed help for damaged split ends; others promising shine and curl; and still others offering to clarify, volumize, or medicate. The abundance of choices astonished her. And to think, all she’d ever expected from her shampoo was clean hair. It wasn’t as if she’d never been shopping, but her busy life usually had her running in, snapping up her tried-and-true bargain brand, and going on her way. Studying the bottles closer, she read phrases like moisture milk, herbal escapes, essential oils, vitamin-laced, and tea therapy.

Tea therapy?

A few steps further brought her to the matching conditioners, also in a mind-boggling, kaleidoscopic variety. Then came the specialty shampoos for dandruff and hair loss and itchy, scaly scalp conditions. And nits.

Lice. Ew.

Dina shivered inside her bulky winter coat as she ambled along, feigning great interest in the items on display.

She reached the end of the aisle, and just as she stepped out to make her way around the shelving unit, the electronic doors at the front of the store slid open, drawing her attention.

A cop entered the pharmacy, and adrenaline shot through Dina like a high voltage jolt. Perspiration broke out on the back of her neck and her heart began to thud. She turned her head away, dipping both her chin and her gaze as she sunk back as far as possible into her wide-brimmed hood. Mustering a calm nonchalance she certainly did not feel, she skirted the tall, end cap display of hard pretzels and slipped into the neighboring aisle. She stopped halfway down and perused the first-aid section with enough focus to lead anyone who might notice her to think her life depended on finding the perfect band-aid.

The officer wasn’t here for her. He wasn’t. He couldn’t possibly know she’d run from the police in Baltimore. He couldn’t.

Dina dared not chance looking behind her, but her stomach sank when she sensed someone approaching. As the person got closer, she could feel the mass of him. It was the cop. Had to be. And the man must be built as solid as a brick wall.

He wasn’t here for her. He wasn’t. She repeated the silent mantra, bending at the waist and grasping the first package within reach. Tweezers, she realized. Silver. Pointy-tipped.

Her fingers were trembling, so she released the plastic and cardboard container. However, when she pulled her hand back, her coat sleeve caught the edge of several packages and tweezers went tumbling like inept circus acrobats. Dina scrambled, snatching them up, and hurrying to re-hang them on the metal display hook.

The cop stopped directly behind her. She straightened, closed her eyes, and drew in a breath in an effort to calm her anxiety. And that’s when she smelled him.

The scent of fresh cut sandalwood tickled her nose. Warm and slightly spicy.

He cleared his throat and her eyes flew open.

Could he have picked up a splinter on the job somehow? Be in dire need of a pair of pointy-tipped tweezers? Maybe he’d cut himself shaving and needed one of those small circular band-aids. That would be her luck, all right. A splinter-laden, razor-nicked cop in need of first-aid supplies, and she just happened to be standing right in front of the display.

Her only goal in walking around the pharmacy had been to warm up a little. Although the day was sunny and the outside temperatures on the mild side this morning, it was still winter, and the damp concrete she’d slept on had left her chilled to the bone. Her hips had been aching and her feet had felt like brittle bricks of ice when she’d arrived, and she’d just wanted to limber up, work the cold out of her joints and toes in a heated environment.

“Miss? I need you to come with me.”

How could he possibly have known…

Dina hesitated, nerves forcing her to swallow even though her mouth had gone as dry as course sand. She was not going back to Baltimore. Not until she absolutely had to. What compelled her next action, she had no idea—fear, panic, sheer survival instinct—but she spun on her heel and glared into his face.

“I’m not going anywhere with you. This is a free country, and I’ve got rights. I’m staying right here, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”

An instant of shock registered on his face. But his jaw quickly set, his lips flattened, and he seemed to grow three inches when he squared his shoulders and straightened his spine.

Oh, Lord, save her. Had she really just gone all rebel on an officer of the law?

“Yeah,” he said, his tone soft but firm, “this is a free country. And you do have rights. Just so long as you don’t take things that don’t belong to you.” He pinched the sleeve of her coat between his fingers. “So put back whatever it is you’ve stolen, and come up to the front counter with me. We need to have a chat with the manager.”

“Wait. What are you talking about?”

He muttered under his breath, then said loud enough for her to hear, “Being uncooperative is only going to make matters worse for you. Your parents are already going to be upset when I call them. It’s bad enough you’re cutting school. Shoplifting is a serious offence.”

Cutting… What?

Shoplifting?Grown-Up Christmas List

She looked at him as if he’d suddenly sprouted a grotesque, green beard.

“All right.” He sighed. “We can play this any way you want.”

Her bravado withered like a sycamore leaf in the dead of winter when she felt herself being propelled toward the front of the store. There must have been only an inch of her coat fabric in his grip, but it was enough to force her to toddle along beside his long-legged stride like a twelve-year-old.

~*~

I’m thrilled to participate in the Love, Christmas Anthology, and I hope you’ll look for our holiday bundle later this fall.

Chapter One excerpt – 2016 Love, Christmas Collection – Merry, Did You Know? by Jennifer St. Giles #mgtab

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Merry, Did You Know?

By Jennifer St. Giles

Your heart is free, have the courage to follow it.

~ Braveheart

Chapter One

December 1st

St. Simons Island, Georgia

MC Love listened as her sister, Summer Love, relayed the latest dysfunctional drama to riddle her family. Her stepfather, whom she called Steppy (because she couldn’t remember his name or what number he was, fifth, sixth, seventh?) and her mother, True Love, owner and CEO of Love International Resorts, had relationship issues.

Actually, all the Loves did.

“Steppy passed out drunk at NeNe’s wedding,” Summer said. NeNe was short for Never Ending. MC had seven sisters, one full the others half, all with the last name Love. Besides Summer and Never Ending, there was, Sweet, Timeless, Pure, Forever, and Madly Inn. That was another dysfunctional story.

Summer continued. “He didn’t just slouch over in his chair, mind you. He face-planted into the groom’s cake!”

MC made an appropriate noise of shock.

“The groom freaked out over his cake being destroyed and threw drunk-Steppy into the fountain. NeNe took issue with her new husband’s lack of respect for Steppy and threw cake at him. He then dropped her, wedding dress and all, into the fountain as well. That’s what you get with a hot-headed New York Italian! I kept telling NeNe that if she wanted the real thing, she had to go to Italy and find a younger version of Gianluca. Long story short, NeNe has filed for an annulment. She will now hold the Love record for the shortest marriage. Mother isn’t too happy.”

Summer had been in lust with Italian Rockstar Gianluca Grignani since the age of thirteen. No man Summer dated ever matched up to her idol. MC had often told her to go to Italy and find her own Italian. It ran in the family though. No man matched their mother’s ideal, so True changed husbands as often as she changed shoes. MC knew what would happen next. “Mother will now divorce Steppy, marry again, and annul after a minute of wedded bliss just so she can reign queen again.”

“I thought you said you haven’t spoken with her today?”

“I haven’t. Just a guess.”

“She mentioned something along those lines a few hours ago. So all in all, we missed seeing you but you didn’t miss much of a wedding. How is the French Riviera?”

MC gazed out over the Atlantic kissing the Georgia coast with wave after gentle wave. “Delightful.”

“Any deliciousness in sight?”

Code for hot male. “I haven’t been looking. Still recovering from he who shall remain unnamed.”

“Well, you know the Love motto. Can’t let a bad man keep you down. You’ve got to get back in the saddle and ride again.”

Looking down at her very pregnant stomach, MC grimaced. She wouldn’t be riding any time soon. A Grand Prix racer from Monaco, Mr. Unnamed’s only response to her, “I’m Pregnant” bomb had been, “Take care of it.” He’d then raced out the door and on to more fast cars and faster women.

MC had been relieved. Mr. Unnamed would make more of a lousy father than she a mother. She was sure his old-school, old-money family wouldn’t agree, but that wasn’t her problem.

“—I’m flying over.”

MC jerked to attention back to Summer. “What?”

“I said, either you find a man or I’m flying over and help you do it. Where are you exactly?”

“Oh…in a villa outside Cannes. The view is perfect for painting. Honestly, no need to fly over. If you must know, I heard a singer last night who intrigued me. As soon as I-uh-finish with my current project. I plan to check him out.”

That wasn’t exactly a lie.

Since she moved in a month ago, she had heard her neighbor singing most nights. Usually about two or three in the morning on his balcony. Lately, she’d set her alarm and would wake up and read until she heard him. Then she’d sneak downstairs onto her porch to hear him more clearly.

“Do that. I will call you next week. Hopefully we won’t have another Steppy by then.”

“Tell Mom I will not be coming to any weddings until I get this project done.”

“It must be spectacular. You’ve been working on it for months.”

MC frowned. “I don’t know. Art is art. We’ll have to see.”

“Okay. I want a full descript and name of your singer or I am coming. Bye.”

Summer hung up before MC could reply. She groaned. Now she’d have to get on the internet and hunt down a man performing somewhere near Cannes that Summer would believe MC had an interest in. Oh, the tangled web…

She hadn’t wanted anyone to know she was pregnant. Once the father bowed out, MC had made the wise decision not to bring an innocent child into the Love family’s mess. Her oldest sister, Timeless, had divorced. She had two boys, Chance and Lucky. Yes, their last name was Love, too. It was True Love’s crusade that any child born into the Love Resort dynasty had to bear the name Love or they’d forfeit their inheritance.

She would now have to make up a lover for Summer to believe in.

Everything MC needed, she ordered on line. The only time she left the condo was for her pre-natal checkups. She currently didn’t even have the heart to say hello to anyone, much less have another Love misadventure.

She just needed to survive the next month, see the adoption through, and then reassess her life. At twenty-six, most of life apart from her art had lost any appeal. Lovers were never true. Friends were shallow. Family was screwed. At least she found beauty and purpose in art.

Cannes is where her old self would go to relax and have fun. She’d come to Georgia to hide. No paparazzi would be camping out anywhere, anytime soon. Once she’d made the delivery then she’d—

The phone rang, but not hers. She moved to the French Doors that led to her private patio and walkway to the beach. She’d left the doors cracked to bring some fresh air in during the warmth of the day. A man dressed in plain black sweats and worn running shoes stood with his back to her at the edge of the sand dunes. The breeze from the ocean carried the sound of his voice to her as he held up his phone and faced his caller. She recognized the man’s deep, and somewhat haunting tone. Her midnight singer.

His brown hair rustled in the breeze. He had broad shoulders and a trim muscular shape. She’d only need a few more details to satisfy Summer for a bit. Pressing her ear to the crack, she gleaned what she could.

 

 

Three years had passed, and Doug Warren still had to force himself to breathe sometimes. Usually it happened in the middle of the night, in the dark, whenever the rushing wind from the ocean made a sharp cry. He’d sit up in bed, his heart racing as he threw back the covers.

He’d then see the moonlit ocean beyond the glass doors and know he no longer lived in the mountains. His wife Lucy no longer lay by his side and his daughter Annie didn’t sleep in the next room. The crushing blow of reality always stole the air from his lungs, the spirit from his heart. Sleep after the flood of memories was impossible.

Last night had been no different. He’d gotten up, grabbed his guitar, and headed for the balcony. There, he’d huddled in the cold, with the waves crashing to the shore somewhere below, and sang. He hoped the wind would carry his love and spirit to their home in heaven.

Today he had played until the sun rose and the bright light of a new day burned his eyes. Then he had crawled back into his room and slept for an hour or two more. Most of the year, he had handyman projects lined up to fill a nine-to-five work week. But, not much happened in the winter on the island. Vacationers followed the warmth south like flocking geese and islanders hibernated for the most part.

This year—like last year—he planned to finish recording his first CD during the seasonal downtime. And this year—like last year—he couldn’t seem to pull it all together. So, once he pried his eyes open with a pot of coffee, he dressed in sweats and headed out for a run on the beach.

Before he slogged through the dry sand, his cell rang. His brother Brad had FaceTimed him. Doug hesitated answering. He didn’t feel like talking to anyone this morning. And he sure didn’t want to look anyone in the eye either. But guilt hit him and he answered, holding up the phone to see his brother’s mug—the poster man for badass State Trooper. Make that commander of field operations Major Brad Warren. “Yo, bro.”

“I see you’re already bumming the beach.”

“Catching the rays. You?”

“Catching the bad guys as usual. Thought I’d give you the heads up. Overheard Mom and Aunt Betty talking on the porch last night.”

“And?”

“Christmas planning. Seems that if Mohammed—you—won’t come to the mountain—here. Then the mountain—us—are coming to Mohammed—there—for Christmas.

“Seriously?” Doug exhaled as his stomach clenched. He couldn’t go there. Not yet. Too many reminders haunted every corner he turned. Here he’d reached a level of survival.

“I’m afraid so. They’re really worried about you. And in all honesty, I can’t blame them. I’m worried, too.”

“I’m hanging in there. Really, I am. I’m just different now. After losing Lucy and Annie, I won’t ever be who I used to be, but I’m finding my way. A day at a time.”

Brad stayed silent a moment. “Nobody is expecting you be anything.  They just want to see you. Put their arms around you and let you know how much they love you. It’s time. You missed last Christmas.”

Doug exhaled hard. He knew his brother was right. “Here,” he said, forcing the words past the tightness in his chest. He feared all of his family’s well-meaning empathy would sink him. He did better when folks didn’t know about Lucy and Annie. “Y’all come here. We’ll do the works. Bonfire. Smores. Christmas Tree. Fish fry.”

“I’ll let them know.”

Doug winced. “Tell them, I’ve got all bases covered. They don’t need to do or plan a thing, but just show up and cook, okay?”

“Will do.” Brad rolled his eyes. “Hope that works for you, bro. I can already hear the multiple calls you’ll get as they worry about every detail.”

“Joy,” Doug said dryly. “Anything else you want to tell me before I go run off my frustration?”

Brad hesitated then shook his head. “Nah. It will be good to see you in person. Technology makes distance way too easy these days. But it can’t replace real face time. Catch you later.”

Doug disconnected, wishing he hadn’t answered. He could have at least had his morning run in peace. Now as he raced along the beach, memories chased him. Smiles. Laughter. His fire truck rolling up to the head-on collision. The moment he recognized the mangled car crushed by the truck, he knew their lives had been taken in an instant.

Breathing hard and heavy, he ran three times his usual distance before heading back to the condo.

 

 

MC paced the floor, her pregnant laden back ached a bit, but she couldn’t sit still. She couldn’t paint either. She’d eavesdropped on her neighbor’s FaceTime conversation with his brother and couldn’t get the words out of her head…or her heart.

Every song he’d sung in the night, now had heart-wrenching meaning put to it, and she didn’t know what to do about it.

I’m hanging in there. Really, I am. I’m just different now. After losing Lucy and Annie, I won’t ever be who I used to be, but I’m finding my way. A day at a time.

She couldn’t seem to let it go.

Chapter One Excerpt – 2016 Love, Christmas Collection – White Christmas by Rebecca York

Nothing is more fun than writing a holiday story, and here’s the first chapter of White Christmas, the Christmas novella I’m contributing to the Love, Christmas boxed set.

Sneak Peek - Love Christmas-400w

Craft shop owner, Amelia Parsons, is too upset to be paying attention to her surroundings.  When she’s hit by a car, she wakes up far from home.  Here’s the first chapter of the story.

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CHAPTER ONE

Amelia Parsons was too upset to see the car speeding toward her through the swirling snow.  One moment she was crossing the ice-rutted street in St. Stephens, Maryland, and worrying about a call from the police—plus a missing shipment of Christmas ornaments for the hospital tree.  In the next she was flying into the air.  She heard someone scream.  Maybe it was her.  Then she sank into thick blackness that lasted for minutes—or maybe it was years.

When her eyes blinked open, she was standing in the cold again, wavering on unsteady legs as big flakes came down around her like she was the star attraction in a giant snow globe.

Main Street was gone.  Instead, in her blurry vision, she saw pine trees, their branches weighted down with a layer of ice.

Her head hurt and her mind felt muzzy.  She thought she heard holiday music drifting toward her on the wind—White Christmas, she thought.  Or was it only ringing in her ears?  And were the warm lights in the distance real?   Through the falling snow and the trees, she could just make them out.

She’d been downtown, half a block from The Wild Side, her arts and crafts shop, which sold the work of local artisans as well as native crafts from around the world.  Now somehow she was out in the woods, but the lights must mean she wasn’t far from civilization.

The snow on the ground was almost to the top of her boots.  As she struggled toward the vague outline of several oversized Swiss chalets, she tripped against a root, going down on her hands and knees.

For a few moments, she fought a pitched battle to keep from blacking out again. When her vision cleared, she pushed herself up and had to grab the trunk of a tree for support.

“Get it together, Amelia,” she muttered as she started struggling toward the lights again.

Before she had gotten more than a few yards, she heard an ominous rumbling that seemed to be coming from high up and to her left.  It thundered closer, and the image of an avalanche hurtling down the side of a mountain leaped into her fogged mind.

All she could do was scramble for safety, floundering through the drifts like a seal out of water, trying to reach the building ahead.  A torrent of white enveloped her, and she knew she wasn’t going to make it. Just before she went under, a running figure grabbed her, swooping her up in strong arms.

She had a quick impression of dark hair under a fur trimmed hood, fierce eyes, and a clenched jaw as he ran with her, lumps of ice pelting down on both of them. He must have zoomed out of the main mass of the avalanche because she sensed it rumbling behind them as he kept going, heading for the closest building.

When he crossed the threshold and carried her inside, she realized they were in a barn where animals were making snorting and chattering sounds.  But when she peered into a couple of stalls, there were no cows or horses.  Instead she saw beige- and brown-colored beasts with antlers.  They looked like some kind of deer?  But who kept deer in a stable?

Strange as it seemed, she would have sworn they were talking excitedly to each other, or was that just the ringing in her ears?  At any rate, she couldn’t understand what they were saying.  And before she could figure it out, her rescuer took her to an unused stall and set her down while he threw back his hood and brushed snow off his shoulders.

Unsteady on her feet, she backed up and landed in a large pile of hay.

Now that they were out of danger, she could get a better look at the guy towering over her.  He was a hunk wearing jeans, a dark coat and heavy gloves.  Under other circumstances, she might have tried to get friendly, but his icy eyes stopped her.

“Thank you for saving me,” she tried as a kind of, um, icebreaker.  When he didn’t reply she kept talking.  “I mean, I know I put you in jeopardy.  I’m sorry.”

His answer wasn’t what she’d expected. “What are you doing here?”

Her fogged brain struggled to process the question. “I don’t know.  I mean I don’t even know where I am.”

He glared down at her.  “I think you know all right. Who sent you?”

“Nobody.”

As she spoke, she heard footsteps in the corridor between the stalls.  A short man dressed in jeans and a red coat over a red flannel shirt stepped into the stall.  His thick white hair was mussed, and his bushy white beard hid the bottom half of his face.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“I found her out in the snow.  I think she’s a spy.”

Amelia stared at him in disbelief.  “A spy?  I don’t even know where I am,” she repeated what she’d said earlier, then added, “My name is Amelia Parsons.  I own a craft shop in St. Stephens, Maryland.  I was minding my own business when . . .” She stopped and pressed her fingers to her mouth.  “Oh Lord, I think I was hit by a car.  I was so upset about that call from the police—plus the Santa’s Workshop shipping delay.”

They both stared at her.  “What do you know about the problems at Santa’s Workshop?” the hunk demanded.

Again she struggled for coherent thoughts. “Nothing.  I was supposed to get a discount order of ornaments, for the hospital tree, but the distributor can’t get anything from them.”

The men exchanged glances.

When the older one started to speak, the younger guy shook his head.  “Need to know basis.”

Amelia blinked.  “Huh?”

The bearded man turned back to Amelia. “We’ve had some problems lately.  I guess I should be more cautious, but it’s hard not to expect the best from people.”

“Would you mind telling me your names?” she asked, her gaze swinging from one of them to the other and back again.

The hunk opened his mouth, then closed it again.

The older man supplied, “He’s Daniel.”

“Okay,” the hunk agreed.

Was she still too out of it to hear that right?

“You just gave him a name?” Amelia asked.

The older man flushed.  “Well, a code name, you know.”

“Why?”

Daniel jumped back into the conversation. “We’ve had sabotage here lately.  And an innocent looking woman like you could be a decoy, sent to make us let down our guard.”

END OF EXCERPT

The title of each story in the collection is a holiday song.  And our readers selected the songs.  I’m so excited that Sharon L. Gage gave me my title. Thanks so much Sharon.

Here’s a link to the Love, Christmas Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/tenbrides/?fref=ts