The last thing Brie Dalgleish expected her boss to do was ask her to play an elf in the toy store grotto. She's even less enthusiastic when she discovers Santa is the same bloke who drove his car through a puddle the previous evening, completely soaking her.
Hector Clause is playing Santa in the family owned toy store under sufferance as a favor to his grandfather. He'd rather be in a nice safe office, using his law degree, than playing Santa in a shop full of squealing kids. Even if the chief elf is on the cute side.
With the store's centenary fast approaching, the anniversary party is abruptly cancelled. Hector resolves to celebrate anyway, but isn't prepared for the curveball he finds headed his way.
The pub was a five minute walk away. The air inside the building was thick and heavy after the chill, damp December evening. More rowdy than usual, the pub had a darts tournament going on at one end of the room, with the Reading v Portsmouth match on the large screen TV at the other. Loud music from the jukebox competed with the two sports.
This was a mistake. She shouldn’t have come out. Head ringing, Brie turned to leave. She collided with a tall, firm, warm body.
He spun around, his beer spilling from the glass onto her coat.
“Sorry…” They both apologized at the same time.
Brie took a step back, shaking her coat. Great, now I have to put this into the cleaners. Serves me right for buying a ‘dry clean only’ winter coat. She glanced up.
Blue eyes twinkled beneath the shock of untidy light brown hair. Long fingers with short bitten nails curved around the now half full glass of warm beer. “You okay?”
She inclined her head, trying her level best to be polite and not allow her temper to bite his head off for not being careful. “I’m fine. Can I get you a new drink?”
“No. Thanks for the offer though.”
Brie headed out into the fresh air. As she crossed the car park, she was aware of someone following her. She moved to one side and pulled out her phone. Rather than call the cops and make a fool of herself if it turned out to be nothing, she did the next best thing. This was a failsafe back up she and Lizzie had anytime either of them went out alone. They had a code word to use if either of them got into trouble for any reason. The other then knew instantly to dial 9-9-9 and get back up.
She dialed quickly. “Hey, Lizzie.” The bloke from the pub raised a hand in greeting as he passed her. Brie watched him climb into his car and drive off. “No, I’m fine. I just wanted to say hope it goes okay with Mr. J tomorrow. If you need me, you know where I am.”
“Thanks. Have fun in the grotto.”
“I’ll try. G’night.” Brie hung up and walked briskly along the wet pavement to the chip shop on the corner of the road. She pushed open the door to be greeted by the tantalizing aroma of fried potatoes and vinegar. She breathed deep. The scent always reminded her of her childhood, living next door to her grandparents chip shop.
The bloke in front turned around. Of course it was the man from the pub. Who else would it be? “Are you following me?” he asked with a smile.
“Perish the thought. I really don’t want vinegar or ketchup over my coat as well,” she replied, keeping her tone light. It really was quite funny if you thought about it.
He held out a hand. “Hector.”
She shook his hand briefly, admiring the firm grip. “Brie.”
“Brie as in cheese?” His eyes widened and he sounded more than a little surprised.
She stifled a chuckle. “No, although being named after a cheese would have been preferable and more than a little more delicious. It’s short for Briseis and way easier to pronounce. Mum had a thing for the story of Troy. It could be worse. I could have been called Andromache or Helen.”
“What’s wrong with Helen?”
“I’m not pretty enough to launch a thousand ships, much less fight a war over.”
Hector tilted his head. “Hmm, the jury’s out on that one.” He moved forward with the queue. “But at least you weren’t named after a cardboard cutout TV dog. Or have an older brother called Nicholas.” He turned to the counter and placed his order.
“I can see why a cardboard TV dog is a problem, but Nicholas?”
He glanced over his shoulder. “It is when your surname is Clause. Nick never lived it down.” He handed over a ten pound note and slid his wallet back into his pocket. He picked up his packet of food. “This may be a little forward, but do you want to share a table and eat in?”
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