Hope for Christmas
Becky McGraw
Western Holiday
Romance

Cowboys are a different breed…
They work hard, play hard and love harder.
It’s all about the ride, until the right woman
makes them fall.

Cord Dixon, Mr. Laramie in the world of western clothing modeling, loses his job because he refuses to sleep with his female boss. Christmas is coming, and his bills are due, so he takes the only job he can find. A mall Santa. Socialite wedding photographer, Hope Carlisle’s life disintegrates when she ruins the wedding of the year. In one fell swoop, she loses her best friend, her business partner and her fiancé. Unemployed and needing a job fast, Hope takes a job as an elf photographer at the local mall. She is not looking forward to her new job, until she meets her sexy Santa. Individually, Hope and Cord’s lives seem to be a hopeless mess. But with the magic of Christmas in the air, they work together to reclaim their lives and find love in the process.

Excerpt

Hope Carlisle tugged her heavy equipment bag the last five feet to the back entrance of the mall. Breathing hard, she set it beside the door and pulled the metal door open. She needed to get a bag with wheels.

Carrying that bag, in those shoes, from the back forty of the lot wasn’t something she could do every day. Maybe she’d wear tennis shoes tomorrow and just change inside. She knew she’d have to do something because it was the holiday season and the mall would be packed until after Christmas. But a new bag would have to wait because Hope had higher priorities at the moment. Like eating and paying her rent.

Cool air brushed Hope’s rear end and she tugged down the hem of the skirt on her Sally Stripper Elf costume. Her feet throbbed in the matching green five-inch heels. The outfit wasn’t something Hope wanted to wear. It was what the mall required. A man must’ve made the costuming decision is all Hope could come up with. If he had to wear these shoes for a day, Hope was sure she’d be wearing house slippers right now.

The fact that the costume was so short it bordered on indecent pointed toward a man’s decision too. A woman would never have picked it out knowing Hope was going to be photographing kids. At least the man had the good sense to add candy-striped tights, or her butt would be hanging out too. Hope didn’t like it, but she’d worn it because she needed this job. To keep it, she needed to suck up her self-pity and get inside before she was late. The Santa she was working with was probably already there.

She never realized what her underpaid assistant had gone through lugging around the cumbersome bag. If the woman still worked for her, Hope would definitely give her a raise. But her former assistant, like her ex-business partner, had gotten out while the getting was good. Before she lost everything she had to Bridezilla, Brittany Weston.

Hope didn’t blame them really, but her partner and former best friend could have at least left her a little money in their business account. Instead, she emptied out every penny to open her own photography studio. And took Hope’s assistant with her.

With a heavy sigh, Hope grabbed the bag again and held open the door with her hip. She tugged but quickly realized the bag wasn’t going to fit through the doorway. Hope let the strap slip through her fingers then swiped her hand across her forehead. It was so cold out this morning. If she didn’t get inside quickly, the sweat pouring from her hair would probably turn into icicle bangs in a minute.

Hope bent over to grab the strap of the big duffle again. She shoved the door wider with her butt then jerked with all she had. Something inside the bag shifted. The bag came through the door and hit her in the chest. Hope gasped as she flew backwards, hitting something soft and fluffy. She heard a grunt then her bag clattered loudly as it hit the floor beside her. She landed on what felt like a pillowtop mattress.

Large, warm hands gripped her waist, a delicious piney scent wafted to her nostrils, and hot breath tickled her ear as her landing pad chuckled. The rumble rolled through her body, carrying tingles along with the sound. Hope rolled onto her hands and knees then stood. She smoothed her costume, looking down at the portly man she had bowled over.

“I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” What had cushioned her fall was Santa’s stuffed belly.

Bright blue eyes burned their way slowly up her legs and stopped a minute at her breasts before sliding up to meet her eyes. They twinkled as he said, “Killing Santa isn’t a great way to start your first day on the job, Tinkerbell.” The man added a knee-melting grin before he rolled then sprang up to his feet.

Hope had never met a sexy Santa before, in a mall, on television, or in a story book. But this guy, even with the big belly, wig, and beard, was sex in a Santa suit. He must’ve realized she was staring because his grin got wider. A dimple popped out above his fake beard and Hope’s heart tripped in her chest.

Guilt rushed through her as she wondered what the man looked like under that bulky suit. With the smooth, tanned skin at his neck, the firm line of his square jaw, those eyes, and that delicious dimple, she couldn’t help herself. Sitting on his lap for hours, staring into those gorgeous eyes wouldn’t be a hardship, that was for sure. The mothers of the toddlers they’d be photographing would probably feel the same way.

Hope shoved those thoughts away, reminding herself she was there to do a job and this man was her co-worker.

“I guess you’re my Santa?” she said, extending her hand to him.

“Cord,” he corrected, taking her hand. When their palms met, electricity shot up her arm to zap her in the chest. “And you must be my elf,” he said. All Hope could do was stare into his eyes dumbly.

I’ll be anything you want me to be.

Hope shook her head. “Hope,” she said and the starch went out of her arm as he clasped her hand tighter.

“Is that your name or are you about to ask me for a Wetty Betty?” he asked with a laugh. The sound traveled along Hope’s nerve endings to settle south. His cap and wig slid sideways, and he pushed them back in place. “If so, I’m fresh out. That’s all the little girls who sit in my lap ask for lately.”

In that flash of a second, she saw the dark hair at his temples and his left ear. Who had sexy ears and who noticed them? This man did. And Hope noticed. Thoughts of sitting on his lap and whispering the long list of things she wanted from him flitted through her mind. That list did not include a doll.

But Hope had other things she needed to focus on right now. Like keeping her job. Lusting after Santa, her co-worker, would not help that cause. “I’m the new photographer,” she said. Because she couldn’t help herself, she let her eyes take one more pass over him, trying to imagine yet again what he looked like under the red felt. “I’m excited to be working with you.”

Santa’s smile faded and he shrugged his broad shoulders. “Don’t be too excited. As a veteran of a week, I have to warn you. This job isn’t for the faint of heart. Keep your eyes open or you might get hurt. You also might want to renegotiate your contract and ask for combat pay.” He didn’t laugh. Hope became a little concerned until she saw those eyes of his twinkling.

She tilted her head to the side and smiled. “You trying to scare me, Santa?”

“You need to be scared, Tinkerbell. Really scared. I’ve been peed on, punched, and set on fire. Mall security only goes so far, so just stay on your toes.”

Santa shook his head and his beard shifted, but he jerked it back in place. His costume didn’t seem to fit him very well at all. And neither did the job. He wasn’t old enough, and was just too…manly. It was eight thirty in the morning, but she saw dark beard scruff on his jaw under the white beard too.

“Well, as an elf, it’s my job to protect you, so I’ve got your back,” she said with a grin.

“Thank God someone has it, because I need backup.”

Uncaged Review

Fun and just what I needed for Christmas!
Cord and Hope are a sweet couple with just enough heat between them to keep you interested. It was a heartwarming Christmas story without being same old, same old. The writing was great, and the characters grew on me quickly. I hated to see it end! If you are looking for a story to get you in the Christmas spirit, this is the one! Reviewed by Skylar

5 Stars