[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to bring you the second chapter of Christmas on Lover’s Lane, an exclusive short story from USA Today Bestselling Author Teri Wilson. She’s whipped up a super sweet Christmas story for you all. Check back tomorrow and all week for further installments!]
Christmas Eve, 10:05 a.m.
I never agreed to this. Taking my Uncle Hal’s place as Santa at his annual Christmas Eve gig was never my idea of a good time. I don’t do Christmas. Hal knows this. Everyone in my extended family does. Still, he managed to persuade me to show up here in the plush red suit.
But playing Santa for a bunch of dogs and cats? Hard pass.
“Look, ah?” I shoot a questioning glance at the baker in the frilly Christmas apron as she bustles past me to flip the sign on the door from Closed to Open.
“Holly,” she says. Her cheeks flare pink, and she looks away. “My name is Holly.”
Of course it is. The woman is decked out in more sparkle and holiday regalia than the Christmas tree at the Galleria skating rink (which is actually bigger than the Rockefeller Center tree, because Texas).
“I’m Nick,” I say, because there’s no way I can avoid telling her my name. Not when I’m about to leave her Santa-less on Christmas Eve.
She stops dead in her tracks. Her glittery candy cane earrings dance a happy Christmas jig. “Like Saint Nick? Is that a joke?”
“Do I look like I’m joking?”
She looks me up and down, and her cheeks go from pink to red—as red a Rudolph’s famous schnoz. “Not at all.”
I hear a swishing noise, and when I swivel my gaze toward the cash register area, a little dog bursts through a flap in an opening shaped like a fire hydrant and scurries toward me. How I missed the fact that this place is a bakery for pets is beyond me.
At first glance, it looks like a regular cupcake bakery—bubblegum pink walls, big chandelier dripping with ropes of pearls and rhinestones, tables laden with homemade decorated baked goods. Except now that I take a closer look, I realize that the few treats that aren’t Christmas-shaped tend to be canine and feline-specific. Case in point: a gingerbread man frosted to look like a postal carrier gazes up at me from a flowery china cake plate.
“Charm, leave it,” Holly says as the little dog tap dances at my feet. Apparently, I’m the it in this scenario.
Charm looks like a tiny spaniel of some sort, with glossy white and chestnut fur. She has the biggest, roundest puppy dog eyes I’ve ever seen on a living, breathing animal, and the feathering on her feet makes her look sort of like a Dr. Seuss character. A cute little dog for a cute little baker.
Neither of whom have anything to do with you.
I yank the Santa hat from my head. Uncle Hal is a dead man.
“No one told me there would be cats.” I aim a pointed glance at Charm. Those eyes could melt the Grinch’s stone-cold heart. “Or dogs.”
Charm bats at my shin with one of her dainty Dr. Seuss paws, and I cave and give her the remains of my liver cookie. Why not? I sure as hell have no intention of finishing it.
She snatches it, gallops back toward the fire hydrant-shaped doggy door and disappears.
“She’s not supposed to eat the merchandise,” Holly says.
“You can take it out of my paycheck.” I glance at the nutty dog clock. I’ve been here for fifteen surreal minutes, which is fifteen minutes too many, as far as I’m concerned. “Actually, just consider that treat the sum total of my pay. I can’t stay any longer.”
Holly’s eyes go wide. “What?”
I give her a curt wave and head for the door.
She dashes after me and throws herself in front of it. “You can’t go. You’re all I’ve got. You just said so yourself.”
My teeth grind together. “That was before I knew you needed a Santa Paws, not a Santa Claus.”
Holly smiles at me—a sincere smile this time that seems almost lit from within. “Santa Paws. That’s super cute. I’m totally going to use that.”
My temples throb. “Not on me, you’re not.”
A man wearing an ugly Christmas sweater decorated to look like a fireplace, complete with swags of actual tinsel dangling from the mantle, knocks on the glass door and grins widely at Holly. He holds up a cat carrier for her to see. The only thing visible in the tiny kennel is a set of narrowed yellow eyes.
I have got to get out of here.
“That’s Cindy. She’s an Abyssinian, and she’s first on the list for Santa pictures.” Holly peers up at me with big, pleading doe eyes. I feel like that dog of hers has been giving her lessons in how to beg without saying a word.
I shake my head. The thought of playing Santa for a bunch of overstimulated kids on Christmas Eve was a bad enough, but cats and dogs? She cannot be serious.
Oh, but she is.
“Please stay. Please.” Holly gives me a wobbly smile, and it’s the way her bottom lip trembles ever so slightly that does me in.
I can’t make this woman cry on Christmas Eve. I just can’t. I’m simply trying to get through the holidays, but today clearly means something to Holly. No one puts on a frilly Christmas kitten apron, candy cane earrings and candy-striped tights unless they’re fully invested.
“You don’t even have to be jolly,” she says. “Just mildly tolerable will do.”
“No ho ho ho-ing,” I say.
“No problem.” She scrunches up her face. Her lips are a perfect red bow. “It scares the animals anyway.”
I grunt my agreement. Santa Claus is coming to town.
About the Author:
USA Today Bestselling Author Teri Wilson writes heartwarming contemporary romance with a touch of whimsy. Three of Teri’s books have been adapted into Hallmark Channel Original Movies by Crown Media, including UNLEASHING MR. DARCY (plus its sequel MARRYING MR. DARCY), THE ART OF US and NORTHERN LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS, based on her book SLEIGH BELL SWEETHEARTS. She is also a recipient of the prestigious RITA Award for excellence in romantic fiction for her novel THE BACHELOR’S BABY SURPRISE. Teri has a major weakness for cute animals, pretty dresses and Audrey Hepburn films, and she loves following the British royal family. Visit her at www.teriwilson.net or on Instagram @TeriWilsonauthor