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For December we'll once again post our annual Christmas stories! This year's first line to start each story: She'd never seen a Santa suit used in quite that way.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Red Suit Surprise - Chapter Three by Christine DePetrillo


RED SUIT SURPRISE
Chapter Three
Cassie opened her front door at 9:17 p.m. “You’re late.”
“I know.”
Grayson had changed into jeans, a green flannel shirt which he wore open over a black thermal T-shirt, and a pair of black work boots. He wasn’t wearing a jacket though an arctic blast of December night air swooshed in through Cassie’s open door. Aside from the slightly frazzled expression on his face, he looked… casual. Sexy casual.
“I got held up.” He met her gaze. “By your dad.”
She started at his head and let her eyes scan down to his work boots. “You’re not bleeding.”
“Miraculously.” He grinned and a balloon filled with something hot and alive burst open inside Cassie.
How can he still be so beautiful after all this time?
Because there was no doubt. Grayson Northe was beautiful. No, scratch that. He was Beautiful. Capital B. His eyes were that forest green with hints of brown, reminding Cassie of all those summer afternoons the two of them had spent hiking in the woods around her family’s lake house in Vermont when they were teens.
Teens in love.
Cassie hadn’t felt anything close to what she’d felt for Grayson with any other guy. Probably why she was still alone, as Aunt Rae had so helpfully pointed out earlier this evening.
“Can I come in?” Grayson asked.
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry.” Get it together. How long had she stared at him in her doorway, remembering the past? Moron.
She stepped aside and let him pass by her. The air around him smelled like soap and wood and man. She inhaled deeply then closed the front door, trying to trap his scent inside her home.
“You want something to drink?” She gestured to the couch in her living room.
He pointed to the mug on her coffee table. The one that said Touch This at Your Own Peril in bloody red writing along the side. “What are you drinking?”     
“Tea.” Could she sound any more nursing-home ready? Luckily the scarf she was knitting for her mother was in her bedroom along with her supermarket tabloid reading materials.
“Tea sounds wonderful.” He lowered to her couch with the grace of a leopard and instantly looked as if he belonged there.
Cassie scurried off to the kitchen before she did something stupid like cuddle up close to him. Unfortunately, tea preparation only took mere moments, and she was back in the living room before her body was armed and ready to stay away from him. His arm was draped along the top of the couch now, creating a nice little nook by his side. A nook that screamed her name and had a magnetic pull.
Setting the mug of tea down on the coffee table, she backed up a few steps and sat on the recliner, a safe distance away from him. “What did my dad say to you? Was it about that night?”
Grayson leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “Okay, we can jump right into this conversation if you want.”
“I want.” She’d been waiting a long time to find out why Grayson had suddenly disappeared on her—right after graduation. Right after proposing to her. She hadn’t had to think twice about her answer. She’d loved him. Completely. Infinitely. Yes, they’d been young, but neither of them had wanted to waste any time. They were perfect together. They had a glorious future ahead of them. They couldn’t wait to get started on their lives.   
But she’d said yes that night, they’d kissed in their caps and gowns, and gone home with their families. The next day, Grayson was gone.
“Let me start by saying I didn’t want to leave, Cassie.” He ran his hand through his hair, his eyes closing as if he were in pain.
She wanted to reach for him, but she forced herself to remain seated in the recliner. She had to hear what he had to say first. She had to know the truth.
“Then why did you leave?”
Grayson slid down on the couch so he was within touching distance. “I don’t want you to think I’m blaming him.” He rested his hand on her knee, and she could feel the heat of him through her pants. “Your father found me that night after I asked you to marry me. He somehow knew already. He told me we were too young. That we’d be ruining our lives if we got married right out of high school. That he wouldn’t allow you to marry me.”
Cassie had always suspected her father was involved in her one true love’s sudden disappearance. He’d never liked Grayson for reasons she couldn’t figure out. Grayson was a good student, a responsible kid even if he was from the “wrong” side of town, but he apparently wasn’t enough for the daughter of Captain Henry Shreaver.
“He told you to go?”
“He paid for me to go.” Grayson got to his knees now in front of Cassie. “Your father paid for my college education. In Australia. He made sure I was all set up, but warned me not to come back for you. He wasn’t going to let us get married. You know my parents couldn’t afford college, Cassie. It seemed like the right thing to do for both of us at the time. The only thing to do.”
“You could have said something to me, Grayson.” She squeezed her eyes shut, remembering the pain his sudden absence had caused. Her heart had been bruised. Badly. She hadn’t been able to get close to anyone else, fearing that someone new would also leave her without a word. She wouldn’t have been able to take that kind of hurt again. “I didn’t know how to find you. No one would say where you went.”
Grayson rubbed his chest as if he had the same ache that she had there. He could have tried to contact her. Left her a letter. Something. The more she thought about it though, the more she knew her father would have stopped that contact. He had been so controlling when she was a teenager. He hadn’t let up much now that she was an adult.
“I hated every moment away from you, Cassie,” Grayson said. “Every moment. I loved you so much.”
“And now?” She was furious at her father, but there’d be time to deal with him later. And it was high time she dealt with him. At this moment, however, she needed to know how Grayson felt about her. If he still felt anything for her.
“I don’t know how it’s possible,” he said, taking both her hands in his, “but after seeing you again, I love you even more.” He cupped her cheek, his palm rough against her skin, causing her to want his touch everywhere. With that one connection, everything she’d felt for him came rushing back.
Not that it’d ever gone away.
“I know I was a coward,” he said. “I know I hurt you. I know I should have talked to you that night. I know it’s been too many years. I also know it’s way too much to ask, but tell me you’re willing to give me another shot, Cassie.”
She couldn’t stand the distance between them any longer. Sliding off the recliner, she landed on Grayson’s lap, her arms instantly going around his shoulders. His arms wrapped around her waist and they held each other, their years apart evaporating like frost on a window.
“I’ll give you another shot, Grayson, because I never stopped loving you. Not for a minute.” She ran her fingers along his bottom lip and he kissed her fingertips.
“Me either. I will always love you, Cassie.”
“I love you too, but you have to promise me one thing,” she said, pushing on his shoulders a bit so she could look him in those stunning hazel eyes.
“Anything. I’ll do anything.”
“No vanishing acts. Ever. No matter what my father may say to you.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” He squeezed her up against his chest. “There’s only one place I want to be. Right here. With you.”
When their lips met, Cassie knew she’d gotten the best Christmas present ever. Her uncle’s passing had brought her soul mate back to her.
Thank you, Uncle Sammy. Maybe her favorite uncle had been more Santa Claus than she’d realized.


For more FREE holiday tales, visit www.christinedepetrillo.weebly.com. 

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Enjoy our Roses of Prose free short stories all month long! Tune in tomorrow for Rolynn Anderson's story!

Happy Holidays!
Chris

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Red Suit Surprise - Chapter Two by Christine DePetrillo


RED SUIT SURPRISE
Chapter Two
“Was Christmas his favorite time of year or something?” Grayson Northe shifted his gaze to Sam then back to Cassie. She was looking at him as if he were the one wearing the Santa suit and resting in a casket. A tiny crease separated her blonde brows, and her bright blue eyes definitely lingered on his mouth.
Interesting…
“Uh, yeah. He loved Christmas,” Cassie finally said, “but I wouldn’t have been surprised to find him in any number of costumes at his own wake.” She turned in her seat to face him more fully, and Grayson enjoyed the view. The V-neck on her otherwise demure black dress offered a hint of what hid beneath the fabric.
And he liked. Always had. Cassie Shreaver hadn’t changed a bit since high school.
Well, actually that wasn’t true. She had changed. She’d improved. She’d gotten sexier, which Grayson wouldn’t have thought possible. At sixteen, she’d been smoking hot.
At thirty, she was volcanic.
With any luck, Cassie had changed in other ways too. Like hopefully she’d forgiven him.
“What are you doing here?” Her voice brought him out of the past and away from his mistakes.
“I’m paying my respects.”
“But why?” Her voice had risen a bit and the man next to her gave him a sideways glance.
Grayson’s first thought was husband, but then he remembered Cassie had a younger brother. Devon. The scraggly kid had filled out and now sported a buzz cut, no doubt following in the combat-booted footsteps of Cassie’s army father.
Trying to ignore the memories of Captain Shreaver’s military-grade stare every time he’d come to pick up Cassie for a date, Grayson said, “I work for your uncle.”
“Construction?” Her dazzling eyes narrowed. “Since when? I thought you were in Australia.”
“I was. Running wildlife adventure tours was great, but my mom isn’t well.” He glanced down to his black dress shoes—his only pair of dress shoes—then looked back up to Cassie. “I came back last month to take care of her.”
Different emotions warred in Cassie’s eyes, but she blinked and they were gone. “I’m sorry to hear about your mom.”
“Thanks. I’m sorry about your uncle. He was awesome to give me a job.”
“He never said anything to me about you working for him.” She gripped the back of the chair with her left hand, and Grayson was encouraged by the lack of a wedding ring on her finger.
“I asked him not to.”
“And why would you do that?” Again her voice got louder and her brother coughed in warning.
“Take it outside, Cass, before Dad realizes who you’re talking to,” Devon said. “I always liked you, Grayson, but I don’t think I’ll be able to stop my father from trying to fit you for a casket while we’re here.”
“Good point,” Grayson said, shooting a quick glance toward Captain Shreaver who hadn’t taken his gaze off his Santa-suited brother. Thank God. He’d known it was risky to come, but he owed Sam that much. He’d been hoping to see Cassie too.
It was time.
 “Can we talk?” He held his breath, waiting for Cassie to answer, praying she’d say yes.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea.” Her gaze went down to his lips again though, giving him all the green light he needed.
“It probably isn’t a good idea, but do it anyway.” He smiled and put his hand over hers on the back of the chair.
She stared at their touching hands and nodded, barely moving her head. “Meet me later.”
“Where?” He wasn’t leaving any details of their meeting unsettled. He didn’t want to give her a chance to back out.
Licking her lips in a way that made heat creep over his entire body, she slid her hand from under his, turned around, and dug in her purse, pulling out her phone. “Number?”
He gave his number to her and after a few seconds of her tapping away, his phone vibrated in his pocket.
“I sent you my address and a time.” She waved her hand toward the door. “Now scoot.”
“Quickly,” Devon added.
Grayson glanced to Captain Shreaver only Cassie’s father was no longer in his seat.
Crap.
He scanned the immediate area, but didn’t see the man, and he was a hard man to miss. His large, square frame made him easy to spot anywhere. Anywhere except at a funeral home in a sea of people all wearing dark clothing.
Cassie and Devon shrugged simultaneously when Grayson looked to them to reveal the captain’s whereabouts.
“Good luck,” Devon said.
“Hurry,” Cassie added.
Well, they were no help.
Grayson slowly rose from his seat, and with a final glance at Cassie—man, she still sent his heart racing—he side-stepped out of the row of chairs and mixed into the crowd. He kept his head low and made it to the main doors of Finwield’s.
Whew.
He opened the door and stepped across the threshold, heading for his truck in the parking lot.
“Maybe I wasn’t clear.” The deep, commanding voice made Grayson jump.
When Cassie’s father materialized before him, Grayson’s flight response definitely thought running was a good plan.
“Captain Shreaver.” Why did his voice have to squeak like an adolescent’s on the man’s name?
“What part of ‘never come back here again’ or ‘leave my daughter alone’ was confusing to you, son?” Cassie’s father folded his arms across his chest, the shoulders of his black suit jacket straining at the seams.
“No part, sir.” Did people die from the sheer force of a person’s glare? If so, Grayson was going down. At least he was already at a funeral home. Convenient.
A muscle in Captain Shreaver’s jaw twitched as his blue eyes drilled holes into Grayson’s skull. “You better have an outstanding reason for being here, kid.”
“I do.”

“I’m listening.”

Visit tomorrow for the final chapter of Red Suit Surprise! Check out my other tales at www.christinedepetrillo.weebly.com.

Toodles,
 Chris

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Red Suit Surprise - Chapter One by Christine DePetrillo


RED SUIT SURPRISE
by Christine DePetrillo

Chapter One
She’d never seen a Santa suit used in quite that way. If the expressions on people’s faces at Finwield’s Funeral Home were any indication, she wasn’t the only one. Some people had furrowed brows, trying to figure out if they were really seeing what they thought they were. Others had wide eyes as if all their attending-a-wake expectations had flown out the window. Still others had their lips set in a grim line, disapproving of the entire display.
And then there was Cassie Shreaver in her simple black dress and mourning-appropriate heels, trying desperately to squelch an ear-to-ear grin.
“Uncle Sammy strikes again,” her cousin, Bridget, hissed in her ear. “I mean, a Santa suit? Really?”
Cassie had to bite her lower lip to keep from laughing. Only Uncle Sammy would insist on being buried in a full Santa suit. Red velvet pants, coat, and cap. All trimmed in white fur. Wide black belt. The whole shebang. He even had round wire spectacles perched on the end of his nose. Definitely missing the rosy cheeks being dead and all, but he was the best looking dead Santa Cassie had ever seen.
Okay. So he was the only dead Santa Cassie had ever seen. Still, the guy managed to make death look jolly.
“I’m surprised Aunt Rae isn’t wearing a Mrs. Santa costume as she receives people’s condolences. Dying three days before Christmas is bad enough, but this is morbidly crazy.” Bridget rolled her eyes and adjusted her purse on her shoulder. “Good thing our dads are the normal brothers.”
It was true. Of the three brothers, Samuel Andrew Shreaver was the odd one, and that was what had made him Cassie’s favorite uncle. Bridget’s father, Uncle Timothy, was a stuffy banker who was forever giving out financial advice. She’d been hearing the “Best to Invest” speech from him since she’d made her first dollar babysitting her younger cousins. He hadn’t let up on the how-to of money when she’d opened her cafĂ© in town either. Cassie’s father, Henry, was a military man, and the only way he knew how to talk to people was to bark orders at them.
But Uncle Sammy? Heck, he was a barrel of laughs. He was the guy who sat at the kids’ table on major holidays and made balloon animals or corny jokes or, on occasion, juggled fire if you asked him nicely. He was the one who would challenge you to a snowball fight or push you higher on the swings than any other adult or make a quarter appear from behind your ear. He was the one always coming up with crazy names for new muffins for Cassie to sell in her shop. Names like Toffee Toadstools and Figgin’ Delicious. He was a living, breathing, human cartoon.
Or at least he was.
Cassie looked to the casket where Uncle Sammy now rested in the Santa suit. He didn’t look like a guy who’d had a massive heart attack and died while shoveling his neighbor’s driveway a week ago. He looked like a guy ready to open his sack and hand out surprises to the attendees. She half expected him to sit up and say, “Just kidding. Merry Christmas, everybody!”
The tears in Aunt Rae’s eyes were proof enough that Uncle Sammy was not, in fact, kidding. He was really gone and though Cassie would miss him, she had to delight in his final attempt to get a laugh out of the family, misguided as it may have been. A quick glance around the room told her she was the only one who’d gotten the joke.
Typical. They’d been kindred spirits and would always be.
Bridget wandered off to talk to some other cousins so Cassie approached the casket and kneeled before her uncle. Inhaling, she nearly lost the ability to remain appropriately solemn when she smelled peppermint.
Good Lord. Are there candy canes in there with him?
She scanned the casket, but didn’t see any candy canes. That didn’t mean they weren’t tucked in there somewhere. She had to keep a grip on her laughter. She’d need a casket of her own if her mother sitting in the front row of chairs behind Cassie heard her laughing at a funeral. Especially one that was already getting lots of tally marks in the awkward column.
“Oh, Uncle Sammy. If only everyone got your sense of humor.” She squeezed his lifeless, red velvet-clad arm, hoping he somehow knew she appreciated his attempt at levity on this dark day. “I love you.”
She rose and made her way to her aunt who dabbed a tissue at the corners of her eyes.
“Cassie, dear.” Aunt Rae folded her into a hug and sniffed loudly in her ear.
“How are you holding up, Auntie?” Cassie backed up to see her aunt’s pink, blotchy face. She could have rocked a Mrs. Santa costume.
“You’re smart not to get involved with a man, honey. All they do is die on you anyway.”
Zap. That was the beauty of Aunt Rae—the ability to deliver covert insults no matter the setting.  
“I don’t think Uncle Sammy planned to die, Auntie.” Cassie offered her aunt a fresh tissue.
Aunt Rae swiped it from her hands. “Maybe not, but he sure as beans planned to wear that ridiculous suit. I couldn’t go against his damn final wishes. The fool.” Her voice cracked on the word fool, and she smiled a little.
That was it for Cassie. She couldn’t hold it in any longer. Laughter bubbled out of her throat and before she could rein it back in, Aunt Rae was right there with her, sounding like a hyena. They hugged each other again, and the rest of the room went silent as Cassie and Rae drowned in giggles.
Wiping her eyes, Cassie said, “I’m sorry, Aunt Rae. I shouldn’t have laughed.”
“Sure you should have. It’s what the kook would have wanted.” She took Cassie’s hands in her own. “Thanks for making me remember the Sammy I fell in love with. You were his favorite too, you know.”
Cassie kissed her aunt on the cheek, hugged her cousins, and made her way to the front row. Her parents and brother were seated there instead of in the line. Aunt Rae and Uncle Sammy had ten—yes, ten—kids, and the line was rather long. Her father and Uncle Timothy had decided to sit with their children rather than stand with Aunt Rae. There was a limit to the number of handshakes and hugs people were willing to dole out and receive at a wake.
“Are you insane?” Cassie’s brother, Devon, whispered as she sat in the empty seat next to him. “Mom is going to kill you for laughing.”
“I’m thirty years old. She doesn’t control me anymore.” She adjusted the hem of her skirt and smoothed her long blonde hair. “Besides, what’s so wrong about laughing?”
“At a wake?” Devon’s eyebrows sailed up to his blond buzz cut. “Umm, like everything.”
“Shut up.” She elbowed him and focused on the evergreen wreaths behind the casket. December wakes tended to bring out the pine and holly arrangements, which oddly enough, complimented the Santa suit nicely.
Hey, if you gotta die, why not go to The Great Beyond dressed as Santa?
Cassie pictured Uncle Sammy at the Pearly Gates giving his name. The bright red of the suit was in stark contrast to the all-encompassing white of Heaven. She was about to imagine her uncle convincing beautiful blonde angels to sit on his lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas when a tap on her shoulder made her turn around.
She blinked once into gorgeous hazel eyes.
Twice at haphazardly arranged black hair.
Three times over a set of full lips encircled by a scant beard.
Grayson Northe?
She looked back to her uncle. Had he somehow known what she wanted for Christmas?

Tune in tomorrow for Chapter Two. Find my other tales at www.christinedepetrillo.weebly.com. 
Toodles, 
Chris

Monday, December 15, 2014

Santa Suit Hijinks Part Three ~ by Leah St. James





Jacob's lack of reaction to Raven's bombshell proved the woman's statement. The boy who'd filled her teenage nights with dreams of romance now created nightmares for the families of his victims.
Hardening her heart, Cassandra shot him a sideways glance. "Sounds impressive.  I'm sure your parents would be proud."
Raven snorted out a laugh, then waved her hand in Cassandra's direction. "Tie her up and put her in the van with her partner. Dose her well.  She'll be so full of narcotics, no one will believe a word she says. We will decide what to do with her later."
With a flip of hair that cascaded halfway down her back, Raven pivoted and exited the office, leaving Jacob holding the assault weapon as easily as if it were an extension of his hand. Cassandra dropped into a defensive posture, hands out, ready to grab or deflect. "Don't even try, Jacob."
Squinting, he considered her while she darted her gaze between his eyes and the weapon.  Finally he reholstered the AR-15 and lifted his hands, palms out. "For old time's sake, let's try to do this without hurting anyone, all right?"
He stepped forward, arm outstretched, but she lunged backward, hitting her butt against the desk crammed into the corner of the tiny space. A sharp pain shot into her hip, and she swallowed the  yelp.
"What the hell happened to you, Jacob? I know things were tough for you after your dad died, but how did you end up with the Ravensworth Group?"
He shrugged. "I climbed the ladder. What's not to understand?"
His words, his admission of guilt, sent a pang through her gut, but somewhere in a corner of her heart she held out hope that the Jacob she knew still lived. Shaking her head, she allowed herself a step closer.
"Drugs are bad enough, but to get mixed up with one of the most violent of the drug cartels? And to be the enforcer?"
She moved nearer, hoping to see something of her friend's humanity in his eyes. "You couldn't even squash a spider when we were teens."
A smirk crossed his face, and he laughed, a short, choppy sound that sent a shiver down her back. "We're light years from our teens, Speedy. You're not the same person either. I'd never have pictured you as a narc. Weren't you the one who used to say cops were nothing but legally armed tools?"
Her back stiffened at his tone of censure. She hadn't planned on giving him more, on letting him know the pain he'd caused, but she couldn't hold back.
"You want to know what changed things for me? Finding you half dead behind the football bleachers from some exotic concoction you let your so-called friends inject into your veins. I called the cops. I watched them trying to bring you out of it until the EMTs arrived." She stifled the sob that wanted to climb up her throat.
"They didn't see you as the thug you'd become.  They saw you as a stupid, stupid kid who'd made terrible choices. After that, I tried to reach you, but you'd disappeared. And that's when I decided I'd spend my life trying to keep other stupid kids away from that poison you loved more than you loved me."
He stood silently while she let the cleansing words flow, like suds from an overflowing tub of laundry. She'd rehearsed them for years on the chance she'd get to use them some day. And even knowing she was making a terrible mistake, it felt damn good.
 "I got into college, studied my brains out for four years, took classes in criminal justice, Spanish and Russian, and trained like a maniac to get in physical shape. The DEA hired me right from school, and when I took the oath of office, it was your face I saw in my mind."
That same stupid smirk was on that face, but he blinked, as if to clear his vision, his chest underneath the ridiculous costume rising and falling far more rapidly than she would have expected. 
"I always wondered how the cops found me that day. Guess I have you to thank for those couple nights in juvie."
"If it weren't for them, you might not be alive now." She lifted a shoulder. "Then again, looking at what you've become, it was probably a mistake."
Later she'd blame her overflowing emotions for her lack of focus when his eyes hardened and his mouth thinned. In an instant, his arms were around her, clamping her to his body, his hand over her mouth and nose. Unable to breathe, and starting to panic, she squirmed to free herself. But he gripped more and more tightly, making small huffing noises with the effort.
Her vision was tunneling, blacking out, when he said, "You shouldn't have come here today, Speedy." 
With a final conscious thought, she let herself go limp. He grunted but caught her weight, and her head spun lightly when he eased her onto the floor and pressed his fingers to her neck. She sensed his hesitation, sensed him hovering. He probably felt her heart jack-hammering away, so she focused on slowing her breathing until it was shallow and easy.
Something ripped next to her ear, like fabric, and she willed herself to remain relaxed while Jacob plastered some sort of tape across her mouth. Then  a metallic scraping several feet away, followed by a puff of air. Maybe a cushion deflating. He'd taken a seat?  
After a series of tinny beeps, he began to speak in his normal voice. "Coyote here."
Coyote? Who, or what, the hell was Coyote?
"I have a cleanup." Pause. "Three minutes."
Cleanup? Cleanup implied he had a mess on his hands. Like Cleanup on Aisle 5. An unconscious federal agent did not need to be cleaned up. Unless you planned to mess her up first.
Deciding it was now or never to make a move, she braced her hands where they'd fallen, palms down on the floor, and gathered her strength. She'd give herself a three-count, then go.
One...two...
She was airborne before she hit three, hoisted and flung over his shoulder. "You never were any good at playing dead," he said. "You were thinking so loudly, you blew out my eardrums."
She bucked in his grip as the upside-down world swayed dizzily past, but he clutched harder, with one arm banded across her mid-thighs, the other hand clamped heavily on her backside. She could only beat her fists against his back as tears welled in her eyes. At some point she'd lost her shoes. And she was starting to feel sick.
He flung the office door open, banging it against the far wall, and hauled her down the corridor to an exterior exit. After shoving the door open with his hip, he stalked into the freezing cold night that smelled like snow, and stopped next to a group of men, at least judging by the view she had of a bunch of thick, muscular lower legs. He leaned over, tossing her upright and into the arms of one of them, where she was immediately gripped from behind.
"I'll be back," he said. She caught his gaze as he started to turn. As if an afterthought he added, "Watch for head butts."  Somehow through all the hauling and carrying and wrestling, the Santa head had remained fastened to his side, and as he turned, the fake twinkling eyes seemed to catch her gaze like a  crazed gremlin. Jacob dragged the top of the costume over his head and with a few long strides slipped back inside.
His exit was met with subdued snickering, and her eyes darted from one lethal-looking, hard-bodied man to the next. Four plus the man holding her—five altogether—standing a dozen feet from the club's loading dock. A black cargo van sat 50 feet away, its side doors open like a hulking monster ready to swallow anything in its path.
The men wore black from head to toe, including face make-up and black knit face masks. Their tactical gear was professional—assault weapons, night-vision goggles and what looked like the newest gee-whiz communications bands around their wrists.
Figuring it was probably not the right moment to try a ninja move, she stood quietly when the man holding her dragged her arms behind her and cuffed her, tightly, with a set of metal cuffs.
He'd barely clicked the lock when one of the men approached. "Go time. Now," he said, his voice low. He waved an arm toward the club entrance. "Go, go, go, go, go."
The man who'd cuffed Cassandra snatched her, carted her a dozen feet to the van,  and with a dizzying twist, dumped her into the cargo hold. The vehicle rocked back and forth for the second it took him to slam the door, pitching her into absolute black but for the rays of a sickly floodlight filtering through the front windshield.
It was enough, though, to see that he'd carelessly, or stupidly, left her alone.
Relief swamped her,  and she almost laughed as she wiggled her cuffed arms under her butt, then tightened her knees to her chest and slipped her hands past her feet.  Her arms now in front, she pushed onto her knees and crawled to the front. No keys in the ignition.
She was about to check the nooks and crannies when a blur of white zipped by in her peripheral vision. Abominable...Raven, the real one.
Cassandra clawed at the handle, kicked the door open and hopped to the pavement, biting back a curse as her bare soles hit the cold, rough macadam. Shoving the discomfort from her mind, she sprinted, following the trail of white feathers that dotted the inky sky.
Even without the use of her arms, running in what felt more like a hobble, Cassandra gained on Raven, and when her prey dove into a line of pines at the edge of the property, Cassandra followed, landing on the big white ball with a solid thud.
The two lay there for a heartbeat or two. Raven came out of it first. Screeching Russian obscenities, she slapped at Cassandra's face, arms and neck.
Scrambling to her knees, Cassandra blocked the blows with her forearms while she spit feathers from her mouth. Her arms were beginning to tire when footsteps thundered behind her. She twisted around. Jacob, without the costume head.  
"Nice move, Speedy," he said around gulps of air. "I don't know how, but she slipped out on us."
He pulled Raven, still spitting out curses, to her feet and waved over one of the men from the van. "Cuff her, read her her rights."
Wondering if she'd lost her mind, Cassandra shook her head. "What is going on?"
Jacob pulled an evidence bag from one of his inner pockets, then unhooked Santa's head from his belt and dropped it into the bag. He handed it off to another of his men then turned to Cassandra.
"You okay, Speedy?" He his lips curved and his eyes softened. "That was some take-down. You need medical attention?
"What the hell are you?"
He grinned and threw an arm around her shoulders as he led her toward the front of the club. "Special agent Jacob Newsome, DEA, just completed a five-year deep cover assignment in the Ravensworth Organization."
"No way." She pulled him to a stop. "Why didn't you try to reach me all these years?" Tears stung at her eyes.
He shrugged, looked away for a moment. "Shame, I guess."
"But...how?"
"That episode at Christmas behind the bleachers scared the hell out of me. Not to mention Mom. When I got out of the hospital, she moved us to Miami, away from that crowd. I vowed off that crap, studied like a maniac and joined the DEA after college. I was lucky they took me."
"So you've been enforcing Raven's orders all these years?"
His eyebrows lifted at her tone of outrage. "Yeah, right into witness protection."
Her head reeling, Cassandra asked, "So what now?"
"Now? Been thinking about requesting a transfer."
"Oh? Where?"
He lifted her left hand and stroked his thumb along her bare ring finger. "I hear Virginia's nice."
She cleared her throat. "I love Virginia."
"So what about it, Speedy? Give me, us, another chance?"
Stepping back, she put her fist under her chin and eyed him, top to bottom, then grinned. "Depends. What do you look like under that suit?"
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I hope you've enjoyed "Santa Suit Hijinks"! Please stop by tomorrow for "Red Suit Surprise" by Christine DePetrillo.  
For more information about my writing, please visit me at LeahStJames.com
Wishing all a safe and blessed holiday season.
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Santa Suit Hijinks Part Two ~ by Leah St. James





Cassandra  lifted her hands to claw at the neck band that topped the Santa costume.  Headless stopped her with a hand on her wrist in mid-air. For a moment they braced against each other, but the restrained steel in his grip told her he was only playing. All the martial arts training and degrees of black-belt would mean nothing if her arm were snapped like a toothpick.
She backed off, rubbing her wrist, and watched for a break in his concentration.  "Why did you call me 'Speedy'?"
"Not here. " His voice had changed. The sexy Russian accent was gone, replaced by classic American. The cadence transitioned in that flash from lazily inquisitive to impatient and angry—furious.  
The tone itself was different but familiar, and her mind raced to identify it. Sounds and vague memories rose like inky shadows she could sense but not see.  "Who are you?"
"Quiet. I need to think."
She heard him then—the boy she'd dreamed about, cried over and prayed for. In the end she'd mourned him for what he'd done to himself and his family. Then she'd hated him for what he'd done to her, to their puppy love.
"Jacob?  Is that you?"
He simply shook his head—neck...the top of his costume—and sighed.
"Take off the top of that thing. Let me see your face." Anger clogged her throat, made her voice hoarse.
"Forget Jacob." The man who, as a boy, had been her first crush, her first kiss, spoke with a hollowness in his tone. Like maybe he regretted the choices he'd made more than a dozen years earlier.
Her heart breaking, she started talking fast to alert her partner. "Oh right, you're Raven now."
"Shut up, Speedy."
He'd dubbed her Speedy as kids, after the cartoon mouse they used to watch. How many Saturday mornings had they spent sprawled in front of the TV in her living room, or his? It's where he'd first kissed her one morning when their parents had deemed them old enough, responsible enough, to be left alone.They were 14.
He'd stuffed two sticks of Spearmint gum in his mouthapparently his teenage idea of an aphrodisiac—and had been smacking away when something made her laugh. He'd said her name, softly. She'd looked up, and before she knew what was happening, his minty breath was in her face and his lips were on hers. It was over before she knew what was happening.
Her heart had tumbled all the way that morning and had never recovered.
Remembering, Cassandra touched her fingers to her lips and blinked back a sudden rush of tears. "Or what? Or you'll do what, Jacob? Sic your goons on me? Kill me? Pump me full of drugs like you did to yourself?"
His hand jerked out, like a rattlesnake, and gripped her around the arm again, but there was nothing velvety or silky about his touch this time. "Stop talking, now, or I'll muzzle you. I can with little effort. And trust me, I will. And whoever is listening on the other side of your wire, stay the hell back if you don't want to see your partner in pieces before the end of this night."
"Why? What's happening tonight, Raven? Or hey, can I just call you Rave? I mean, we do have a history."
His hand clamped over her mouth, cutting off her speech. Raven—the man she'd never again think of as Jacob—said,  "You're coming with me. Now."
"Like hell." Bucking, she jerked her head forward and connected with something solid inside the suit.
"Oomph." Raven's neck bent and he put a hand to mid-chest—probably where his head was—losing his grip on her.  Again she slammed her head forward, this time putting all the pain of her discovery into it. Again she connected,  then gritted her teeth to make the world stop spinning.
"Son of a ..." Continuing his curse, he let her slide until her feet touched the ground.
Finally free, she ducked under his arm, then aimed the spike of her heel  toward his groin.
Raven leaped back. His hands flashing, he caught her ankle, twisted and yanked. She landed with a crack that knocked the breath from her lungs and the transmitter from her ear.
Seeing it, Raven stomped, and slivers of shattered electronics skidded across the floor.
"Crap." Cassandra put a hand to her head and tried to gather the strength to stand, to fight, to stop this bastard who'd fallen back into her life, making her want to scream, or cry.
She eased her eyes open to see him squatting in front of her. He offered a hand. When she spat at it, he stilled and, after a moment, wiped his palm against the red velvet pants.
"I swear to God, Speedy," he said, sounding strained, "if you don't stop, things will get messy. "
"Since when did you care about messy?"
In seconds,  he had her down on her back, straddling her waist with his knees while he held her hands to the sides of her head.  The top of his costume, the neck, was poised directly over her face, and she peered closely, still trying to figure out which part of his chest concealed the eye ports. Unbidden, laughter bubbled up her chest and out.
"Dammit, Speedy. Shut up."
"I can't help it. You know I laugh when I'm nervous."
Whatever he planned to say was cut off when the door to the office slammed open and Abominable marched in.
"Shit." Raven spoke quietly but with a hint of desperation in his tone. He swung his leg over her body and pushed to a standing position as if he were balancing on a tight wire. Then he moved several inches to his left, blocking Cassandra's view. She scrambled to her feet, then dusted off the candy-cane fabric while Raven tried to make nice with the woman, who probably didn't know what the hell he was.
"This is not what you think," he said, the Russian accent back in full force.
Abominable stood there, arms crossed and foot tapping in the classic stance of a scorned lover. She drew off the giant paw-glove from her right hand, then pulled the head off, revealing a stunningly beautiful face—huge brown eyes and long, curling lashes. Lips of cherry red that made even Cassandra want to sample them. Flawless skin in soft gold. All framed by tumbles of rich chestnut hair that she scooped from her face with fingers tipped in half-inch-long red. Like the claws of a predatory bird, following a kill.
She was gorgeous, and barely over five feet, presuming she wasn't wearing heels inside the snowman costume. Next to her, Cassandra felt like a clumsy, clodding giant.
This woman might look like a brunette version of Barbie, but she was no innocent. She'd been talking drugs with Raven earlier. She could be one of the distributors he'd been lining up.
Shaking the image free, Cassandra stepped forward, wishing she'd had room to stash her credentials in this outfit.
"Miss, he's right. This isn't what you think."
"Quiet!" Jacob—Raven—shouted, then silenced her further with a chopping motion of his hand.
The woman gave a sensual chuckle, her smile forcing a tiny dimple in the center of her cheek.  "You should pay attention, whore, and keep your pretty mouth closed."
Apparently Cassie's mouth didn't take orders because it dropped open and hung there for a second before she had the presence of mind to at least put it to use. "You really don't want to talk to me like that."
Raven whirled and grabbed her arm, again squeezing  the fleshy part above her elbow until she bit her lip to keep from yowling. "I will tell you one more time. Keep quiet."
"Don't bother," the woman said. "It's too late." She stepped forward, her face a mask of boredom as she held Cassandra's gaze, then drew her arm back.
Cassandra should have read the intent, should have reacted, but shock held her motionless when Abominable whipped a hand across her face.
Her head jerked to the right and pain exploded along her cheekbone and jaw line. Blinking rapidly to keep the welling tears from falling, she yanked her arm free. "Look. I don't know who the hell you are, but you've just assaulted a federal officer. And my backup is right outside. You have the right to remain silent—"
The woman snorted. "You mean the little man in the minivan who's been out there all day?" She waved a hand, dismissively. "He has been neutralized."
"'Neutralized'? What do you mean?" Cassandra darted a glance to Raven who was standing there like a storefront dummy. "You killed him?"
"That will depend on your willingness to cooperate," he answered.
The woman butted in. "And do not expect any of your fellow guests to stumble upon us either," she said. "They will not come looking. They're enjoying the samples too much." She patted the Santa head glued to Raven's side.
"You have drugs in that thing?!"
Raven laughed. "A Santa sack would be too obvious, don't you think?"
Cassandra's stomach was really churning now, and not just from lack of food. She was unarmed, her partner neutralized—whatever that meant—and she was standing here with two people who had just admitted to passing out enough narcotics to keep the area's elite sky high for the foreseeable future. Something had to change.
"Look," she said to the woman, "You have things twisted. I don't care if you are the lover of this piece of garbage here," she said, jerking a thumb in Raven's direction.
"His lover?!" The woman let out a lusty howl of a laugh. "He's not my type." With that she skimmed appraising eyes along Cassandra's length, a smile curving the right side of her mouth. Then she nodded toward Raven. "Go ahead. Tell her who you are. Or better yet, tell her who I am."
Cassandra's insides froze when Raven drew off the top of the costume to reveal his head. Same golden-brown hair cut ruthlessly short to tame the riot of curls that, if left growing, framed his face like an angel.  Without meeting her eyes, he unbuttoned the Santa jacket. Inside he wore two shoulder holsters, each loaded with a weapon. He slipped one from the holster with a slow draw, maybe so she could get a good look. It was long-barreled and nasty looking. An AR-15—one of the preferred weapons in the drug trade. Once it was in his hand, his shoulders relaxed.
Then his eyes met hers, and despite the insolence in his expression, she saw Jacob, her old friend, in the depths of that lake-blue gaze. Still, he spoke with the fake accent. "I have the great pleasure to introduce the president and CEO of the newly formed Chesapeake International Import/Export." His eyes hardened. "You perhaps know her as Raven."
"She's Raven? Then who—"
Jacob held up his free hand, silencing her. "I am director of security."
"Fancy title," the woman—Ravensaid. "He's my chief enforcer. And he is exceptionally good at his job."

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Please return tomorrow for Part Three of "Santa Suit Hijinks."