A Romancing Wisconsin Holiday Story (#2)
Amazon, BN, Apple, ARe, Kobo, SW
Amazon, BN, Apple, ARe, Kobo, SW
Buy Mistletoe Magic in the month of December and 100% of my author royalties for the book will be donated to Happily Ever After, a no-kill animal shelter in Wisconsin.
|Christmas recipe for love—combine a matchmaking|
Santa, lots of mistletoe, one iron-clad rule, fated hearts;
mix and stir. The Riley siblings don't stand a chance.
Major Mark Riley plays Court Jester to Janelle Walsh's Snow Queen at the Christmas Parade and is instantly captivated by the cute redhead whose grandpa just happens to be Santa. When Mark learns she's the tenant he evicted from his newly purchased property, it's going to take a little bit of Santa's mistletoe magic to save their romance.
She gave him a quick half-smile and sidestepped toward the wagon. “It was nice to meet you, Major. Thanks for doing such a great job as the jester.”
“You’re welcome, and you can call me Mark, you know.”
The briefest flash of consternation in her expression told him she hadn’t meant to say that out loud. When her foot landed on the step so she could pull herself up into the driver’s seat, Mark caught her arm and turned her around. She grabbed hold of his shoulder to keep her balance on the narrow step.
“If I don’t do this, it’s going to drive me crazy until I see you again,” he told her in a low voice.
Her throat muscles worked in a hard swallow. “Do what?” A downward flick of her gaze said she knew the answer to her own question.
He let his mouth relax in a slow, confidant smile. One step closer brought him close enough to brace a hand against the wagon on either side of her. “I gotta tell you, pretty as you were as the Snow Queen, elf suits you better—although I do miss those cute, pointy little ears.”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, please.”
He took a moment to let his gaze roam over her face. Snow drifted down silently and their breath mingled in the frigid air. Mark drew out the anticipation of what was to come, enjoying the awareness that warmed the space between them.
“You look like Christmas,” he murmured.
One corner of her mouth twitched. “I’m guessing it’s the costume.”
He shook his head and reached up to twirl a red curl around his finger, watching the silky length wind against his skin before holding her gaze with his. “Red and green, and all wrapped up like a delicious, cinnamon scented present.”
She laughed softly.
Mark closed the remaining few inches, pressing the length of his body to hers. “In fact, I think I need to go find Santa and tell him I’ve been a real good boy this year.”
He spoke the last words a hairsbreadth away from her lips.
"You ain’t been good enough for my granddaughter, sonny.”
Mark froze. Amusement sparkled in Janelle’s eyes. With an inward groan, he took a step back from Janelle and faced the owner of the stern voice. The Santa Claus from the parade stood directly behind him, glaring daggers at Mark over his wire-rimmed glasses, arms crossed over his bellyful of jelly under the jolly red suit. Janelle’s blond-haired cousin, Derek, stood beside him with a similar expression of hostility.
Mark swiveled his head toward Janelle. “Santa’s your grandfather?”
“Pretty cool, hey?”
“Oh, yeah,” he agreed. “Awesome.”
Janelle’s laughter didn’t soften Santa’s countenance. “If you know what’s good fer you, young man, you’ll step aside.”
Mark tensed. He sized up Santa and Derek in one swift glance. Derek stiffened, and his eyes narrowed when they met Mark’s. Mark almost burst out laughing when he realized his military instincts had kicked in out of habit. What the hell was he thinking? Like he’d actually fight the old man or her cousin?
“Easy, Grandpa,” Janelle intervened. “Much as I appreciate it, I can take care of myself. Besides, the major here is perfectly harmless—nothing but a big flirt.”
Mark’s ego took immediate offense. “Hey.”
“Don’t try to deny it. Even Marissa said so.”
Gee, thanks, Marissa. Ah, but wait—they’d been talking about him.
Santa’s bushy white eyebrows mashed together. “Hold on, are you Eric Riley’s brother?”
The man stepped forward with a sudden grin, his hand outstretched. “Why didntcha say so? Butch Walsh, Major. And this here’s my grandson, Derek.”
“Nice to meet you both, but please, the name’s Mark.” He shook hands with them, all the while wondering how his younger brother had gotten in Santa’s good graces and managed to smooth the way for him? That used to be Mark’s job for Eric.
Derek put extra muscle into his handshake. When he let go, he still looked ready to give Mark the third degree and didn’t disappoint. “So, how long are you home on leave for, Major?”
Loose translation: How long before you get the hell out of town? Mark couldn’t help but square his shoulders to meet Derek’s challenging glare. “As of Friday, I no longer report to the United States Armed Forces. I’m returning to Pulaski permanently.”
“Early retirement?” Derek sneered.
“Oh, is that what they call it these days?”
Mark’s anger exploded like a flash-bang. “Listen here you sonofabitch—I served my time, including six months in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq. Don’t you dare suggest I haven’t done enough for my country.”
“Easy boys,” Santa warned.
Janelle jumped down between them at the same time Derek took a step forward. “Derek, knock it off. Both of you are going a little overboard.”
Mark glanced from her to Derek, consciously relaxing his clenched fists. “You’re right, I apologize.”
Derek’s lips remained clamped in a tight line.
Janelle shot him a dirty look before stepping forward to hug and kiss her grandpa on the cheek. “I’m going to try to beat the worst of the snow. Tell Grandma I hope she feels better soon.”
“I will. Drive safe, sweetheart, and be sure to give us a quick ring when yer home.”
She nodded. Mark stood aside so she could climb into the wagon. Once she’d brushed the snow from her seat and settled down, he moved closer and spoke in a low voice. “I’d like to see you again.”
She shifted her gaze over his shoulder before meeting his eyes with a soft smile. “Okay.”
“Janelle,” Derek protested from behind.
Mark ignored him. “When?”
“Is Tuesday too soon?”
“It’s not soon enough.”
“Don’t be a kiss-ass, Major.”
He grinned, determined to have her using his name by the end of Tuesday evening. “What time can I pick you up?”
“How about we meet at Figaro’s Pizza to pick up some dinner about six.”
“Sounds like a plan. I’ll be looking forward to it.”
“Me, too.” After one last smile for the men behind him, Janelle lightly snapped the reins and sent the horses into motion with a jingle of their bells. Mark watched her glide away through the falling snow before turning to face Santa Butch and Derek.
“You’d better not mess with her,” Derek warned. Without waiting for a reply, he spun on his boot heel and stalked back inside.
“Don’t mind him none,” Santa said, bushy brows drawn together in a frown. “He’s got issues with anything military.”
Mark still felt like a first-class jackass for flying off the handle so fast, but the thing was, Derek’s comments had struck a sore spot he didn’t want to fully acknowledge. As he and Santa Butch followed Derek more slowly, Mark ran a hand through his outgrown crew-cut to disperse the melting snow.
“I take it Janelle and him are close?”
“Them two’ve been through a lot together,” the old man confirmed. “That’s why he’s so protective of her.”
Mark stepped ahead to open the gym door.
On his way past, Santa clapped him on the shoulder with a grin, his eyes alight with a twinkle. “Lucky fer you, though, I like yer brother.”