He's going to make sure she has a wonderful Christmas. If he has to drag her, kicking and screaming.
A Barrum, Ks Holiday Romance
Erica Jones doesn’t “do” Christmas, never has, never will.
For anyone who believes that everything is “merrier and brighter” during the holiday season, she has a news flash—it’s not any better. Just colder.
Andrew Hawkins has never had a bad Christmas, never understood his best friend’s aversion to it.
After all, it’s all about family and togetherness and faith, right? Instead, the faintest twinkle of tinsel or the whiff of evergreen sends Erica into self-imposed exile to watch the latest action movie.
Not this year. This year, Andrew is on a mission to find Erica’s Christmas spirit.
Even if he has to drag her, kicking and screaming.
Barrum, Ks Books:
“Seriously, isn’t there enough holiday cheer around here? You all don’t have to invade my office.” My coworkers, decked out in their fancy Christmas finery—complete with Santa hats and jingly socks—spread out across my minuscule office like a plague of jingle bells.
I should have been expecting this—it was a week before Christmas.
I had to start locking my door.
“Now Erica Jones, it’s the season!” Judy replied, grinning as she carried a huge poinsettia to the end table near the door. Judy was fifty if she was a day, but certainly more of a girlfriend-type than a motherly-type.
Well, at least if I let her. Girlfriends tended to steal husbands and gossip. I didn’t have time for that nonsense.
I had things to do.
I rolled my eyes at Judy’s attempt in bringing seasonal cheer. “It’s a waste of décor for me.”
“What are you, a Scrooge or something?” Judy’s partner in crime, Cindy Stone, asked as she hung a little green bell on my doorknob.
I pushed away from my desk and crossed my arms. “I just hate Christmas.”
Both women dropped their boxes with a screech of murdered jingle bells.
“But why? It’s the most joyous time of the year!” Cindy stared at me like I had turned into the Grinch.
“I just don’t like it.”
With his usual perfect timing, Andrew Hawkins came through the door. He glanced at Cindy and Judy, then back at me.
I knew that look too. He was about to pull out the charm.
“Come on, ladies, not in here. Erica’s not a big fan of Christmas,” Andrew said, winking at me.
Both Cindy and Judy went all moony at Andrew, even though Judy was a little old and Cindy was happily married.
Really, though, who could blame them? He was tall, dark haired, broad shouldered, and endowed with a killer smile. He could charm himself into Queen Elizabeth’s pants.
He hadn’t changed since he was six.
He glanced at me, a look of, well, not sympathy exactly, but understanding of my position. “Erica’s family died on Christmas a few years ago,” he told the women.
Which was true, sort of. They died in December, but I used it as an excuse to explain why I didn’t do Christmas. Hawkins understood Christmas had never been my happiest time of the year, even when my parents were alive.
“Oh,” they replied in unison.
“We’re sorry,” Judy said, her eyes filled with sympathy. “We didn’t know.”
I waved them off. “It’s okay.”
Cindy attempted to come over to give me a hug, but thought better of it—probably because of the look I shot her. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask,” she told me instead, and both she and Judy headed out the door, their decorations jingling all the way.
Andrew watched them leave, then faced me. The charm face was gone, replaced by the same kid who used to dig for worms while we waited for the bus. “You okay?”
“Fine.” At the door, the poinsettia still sat. “They forgot the plant.”
Andrew shrugged it off. “You should have some color in here.”
“Aren’t those things toxic?”
“You’re not going to die from a single poinsettia.”
“Might make the holidays more bearable.” I shifted in my chair, getting back to work mode.
He shook his head. “Seriously, Erica. Don’t you think you should at least try to enjoy the season? I know you never liked it.”
I held my hand up. “Stop right there, Hawkins. Do you have some official capacity to be here, or are you going to torment me about the office holiday party again?”
“Well, since I don’t have a death wish, I thought I’d bring you more work.”
Andrew worked in the sales department of Inventive Proposals. I was a graphic artist with the company, and I pretty much made him look good.
Something not new to me—I’d been making him look good since the first grade. He used to copy my tests and “borrow” my homework. Now, he just schmoozed the clients and presented the designs I made.
I wasn’t the only graphic artist in the company, but after four years of working almost exclusively with Andrew and his clients, I’d wound up as the company’s top designer.
They kept offering me promotions, but I kept turning them down. I didn’t want to deal with some of the others in the sales department. I liked how I worked with Andy. It was a comfortable relationship. We were both in our mid-thirties, both of us divorced from our high school sweethearts, and both of us had an understanding.
We were best friends. No complications of nookie getting in the way. Some around the office thought we were friends with benefits, but whenever such rumors popped up, Andy took care of them.
I didn’t care. I mean, he was a cutie. I could say that in a clinical capacity because I’d known him all my life. It’s really hard to see someone who used to wipe boogers in my hair as anything but a buddy.
“The Bumblebee’s Salon wants a new ‘Buzz into Spring’ theme for their stuff. They’re talking the whole works: website, stationery, new cards, everything. You up to doing something?”
“Sure,” I said. While most companies didn’t ask for springtime stuff this early, Andy knew I liked to perfect my work and not get bogged down.
I hated rushing anything.
He handed me a jump drive. “All their stuff’s on there. They loved the original design you did for their website, but they haven’t updated it except to adjust a few minor things. They want to get more personal—blogs for their stylists, that kind of stuff.”
“Okay,” I replied. “I’ll get to work on it.” I stuck the jump drive in my desk drawer.
Andy should have walked out of the room. He usually did after he brought over something for me to work on. Today, though, he stayed, staring with those damn green eyes that could burn holes in me if I wasn’t careful.
“What else is there, Andy?” I asked him.
He grinned. “You haven’t called me Andy in forever.”
“Sorry. What else is there, Asshole?”
“Tramp.” If any other person called me a tramp, I’d probably come out of the chair and kick their ass. Hawkins, though? We’d called each other names for twenty years. They were practically terms of endearment.
For a second his eyes shifted, changing, and the air got thick in the office.
I tugged at the neckline of my sweater. “What is it?”
He took in a deep breath. “Mom—”
“No, Andrew Hawkins. No. Do not go there.” I knew exactly where he was going. His mom was inviting me to Christmas dinner again. She did it every year, and had for a decade. Even when Andrew was married, she still invited me to dinner. Andrew’s wife had never been crazy about it, but not even Mr. Hawkins could control Mrs. Hawkins when she got an idea into her head.
Not that I went.
Andrew ignored my protests. “Mom wants you to come to Christmas Eve gift exchange and Christmas dinner. You don’t have to bring any gifts, but as required by law, you have to help prepare the food.”
I rolled my eyes. “You know how I feel about Christmas.”
He walked around my desk and took my hand and knelt down. I glanced back at the door, looking for Candid Camera or something. Or worse, the gossip crowd to see him on his knee in front of me.
“Erica, you know you’re my best friend. It’s not just for my mom. It just makes me sick to think of you alone on Christmas.”
“Trust me, alone is better than in public.”
He squeezed my hand. “Please think about it.”
Staring into those green eyes, I couldn’t help the words coming out of my mouth. “I’ll think about it.” Think about gagging, maybe.
Gah, what was wrong with me?
He stood, and placed a short, chaste kiss on my cheek.
I about fell off my chair.
He was gone before I could yell at him.
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