Reindeer Games (multi-author series)
by Dahlia Rose
Ebook ISBN: 07547-02434
[ Contemporary Christmas Romance, MF ]
With skin like cappuccino and a silver streak in her hair, she came in to the shop each morning with a cup of hot chocolate and a smile just for him.
Danny rolled his eyes and drummed his fingers against the sales counter of his store. He had the phone between his shoulder and his ear, and all he could hear was the high pitched squawking from Mrs. Rosen about changing her order but still wanting the same delivery date. It was fucking impossible, but he tuned her out and let her go on and on and on. Christmas music filtered out from the sound system he had installed, but instead of the warm feeling that it was supposed to evoke for the holiday, it made Danny want to throw something at the stereo. He hated Christmas, yet he ran a business that thrived on the holiday. Hence it was the reason why he listened to Mrs. Rosen and only contemplated murdering his sound system.
The bell over his door rang, and he looked up to see Tia Davis walking in with her usual smile on her face and two cups in a cup holder in her hand. His assistant was like a breath of chilly holiday air, and even in the summer time when business lulled she never had a worry in the world. Tia had moved to Cross Place two years ago. Everyone thought she was a model who was trying to escape some sordid deals. Actually, she was just a woman tired of the city life and wanting a new start. The cost of living in town was low, and her paycheck from him good enough that she didn’t need to take a second job. He was glad. Danny liked looking at her. Tia’s skin was the color of the hot chocolate she always brought in, and a streak of white hair against her raven black tresses always made people curious. He watched as she took off her hat and gloves and shoved them in the pocket of her coat before hanging it on one of the wall holders.
“Mrs. Rosen… Mrs. Rosen…” Danny sighed. There was no getting through to this woman.
Tia came over and motioned for him to hand her the phone. Danny gave it up willingly, thankful to give his ear a break.
“Mrs. Rosen, Tia Davis here. Merry Christmas,” Tia said. “Now what can I help you with?” She covered the receiver with her hand. “The schedule is booked tight, right? You can’t add a set of carved army men, can you?”
“Hell no,” Danny said in exasperation. “I’m barely going to make Christmas Eve deliveries as it is.”
“Mrs. Rosen, see it from our point of view. Danny works tirelessly to make these authentic toys carved by his own hands for Christmas each year, and each year you ask at the very last minute for something extravagant.” Tia listened for a moment before speaking again. “Yes, you are one of our best customers, but you are not the only customer. There are two choices. One, we can add this onto your order and your order will be delivered after Christmas. Two, we can slate this new piece for delivery after the holidays, with one piece made and a little card attached telling your grandson the rest will be ready very soon, so he needs to keep the one safe. Which do you like best?”
Tia smiled and winked at him. “I thought so. Thank you for being such a valuable customer. We will add that in with your order, and I’ll make sure the card looks amazing so you don’t have to worry about Joey being disappointed.”
He listened to her exchange pleasant goodbyes with their customer before hanging up, and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Can you carve an army man quickly?” Tia asked. “I’ll create a nice card and make it look nice in a box for Joey.”
“I sure as hell can, instead of thirty of the things and a carved box for them in five days,” Danny answered.
“You have to be tougher on the hard customers,” she said gently. “Last year you worked yourself to the bone, even taking care of the painting when I dropped from exhaustion.”
“Grinch Toys shouldn’t live up to its grumpy owner,” Danny said. “Thanks for saving my grits.”
“I’m not just your arts department, I’m the sanity and grits saver.” Tia saluted. “I have your hot chocolate, and even an apple turnover.”
“What would I do without you?” Danny pressed his hand over his heart as he accepted her treats.
“I don’t know, Mr. Danny Grinch. Who would draw the faces on these amazing creations or keep you from going postal on Mrs. Rosen?” she teased. “Maybe you could buy dinner to repay me for saving Mr. Grinch.”
“Maybe I should, one of these days.” Danny hesitated. “I need to get to work…”
She frowned for an instant, then shrugged her shoulders. “I guess you should. I’ll be in the back if you need me to field any more phone calls.”
He watched her walk to the back room, and this time his sigh of frustration was about his reaction to Tia. She’d been giving him I’m open to a date signals for almost a year now and each time he wavered on following through. He was a strong man, not afraid of his feelings or going after what he wanted in life. He wanted to take her, hard and fast until she was begging and he was telling her all the dirty things he liked when she took him in. But at the other end of the spectrum, when it came to Tia, it scared the crap out of him that the tiny woman could wrap herself around his heart and he’d be weak. She was like trying to hold on to lightning in a bottle, he didn’t know if he should even try.
* * *
Tia sat at her workstation and put in her earphones so she could begin her work. As her play list started she sighed, thankful to be away from the Christmas music just for a while. It was fun, but working with it going on constantly would have driven her mad by the end of her first year working for Grinch Toys. In November they pulled out the decorations, most of them handmade from wood by Danny, and remade the shop into a winter wonderland for toy lovers. She loved watching the children come and gasp and parents take note of what they liked on the shelves to purchase at a later time. With most other toys being commercialized and mass-produced, Danny had carved his niche out in Cross Place, Massachusetts. The small town had a homey feel, was close to the water, and was freezing cold in the winter. Everyone knew everyone in the town, and after two years living there, she’d stopped being a source of gossip for the residents in town. She was one of them now.
Danny was her boss and from the first time she met him, she was attracted to the toymaker. Who wouldn’t be? He was six three with gorgeous green eyes and a crooked grin. Danny was built like a linebacker, and if he took her hand it would be lost in his big palm. Yet he created some of the most intricate pieces of work from wood. That took precision, so she knew those big hands could be gentle. Tia’s stomach clenched thinking about his hands all over her. But no matter how many times she opened the door to let him know she was willing, he walked past like he was clueless. Well damn! Do I need to walk in wearing a trench coat, and candy-cane pasties for him to take notice?
The thought made her giggle as she pictured it in her head. Behave, she told herself firmly and with the band Journey playing in the background she began to paint the two sets of nesting dolls that sat on the worktable before her. They were for the Bradley twins who turned sixteen in the summer. Their mother had requested that each set be painted to suit each twin’s personality. One would be girlie and red with big expressive eyes, and the next set would be purple and more gothic looking. Tia loved working at the toyshop because it gave her creativity a boost. She was doing something she loved instead of what others expected her to do, so if Danny didn’t want to make waves in their work relationship she would honor it because she loved her job.
With the music she didn’t hear Danny enter the room, so he tapped the worktable and the vibration would get her attention. They had worked out a system after the first few times he touched her shoulder and it ended up with shrieking and having to redesign whatever piece she was working on at the time. Tia pulled the earbuds from her ears and looked at him standing there. He was wearing a gray long sleeved, knit blend shirt and his customary blue jeans.
“What’s up, Slingblade?” she teased in her customary way to elicit a smile from him.
“You have a call. Apparently, you haven’t charged your cell phone yet,” he said with his hand covering the phone.
She smacked her forehead with the palm of her hand. “Argh, I forgot again. I swear I’ll do it tonight.”
“You said that two days ago. How can a woman not care if her cell phone is charged or not?” Danny asked in exasperation.
She shrugged. “No one to call, and if they don’t reach me, they come by or call here.”
Danny shook his head and handed her the phone. “I give up. I’ll wait for it because you won’t remember to put it back on the cradle or hear it when it rings.”
“Good looking out, Danny.” Tia grinned and answered the phone. “You’ve reached her royal highness of awesome, what gifts do you bring?”
“I bring the gift of dinner and dancing,” the deep voice replied. It was Josh, another guy who lived in Cross Place and who had a definite interest in her. She always kept it casual even though they’d been out once or twice.”
“Continue, Josh. Color me intrigued,” she replied.
“Tomorrow night, the Oak Club Christmas dinner and dance, me and you,” Josh said. “I’m even wearing a tux.”
“Josh, do you even own a tux?” Tia teased. Josh was a contractor in town with his own business, and was as blue collar as they came but with his build she could see him looking good in one of the expensive suits.
“Please don’t downplay my sophistication,” Josh teased. “I look absolutely scrumptious in a tux.”
“Well then I look forward to sampling your scrumptiousness,” she said, and noticed her words made Danny scowl. “I’ll call you tonight, and we can pin down a pick up time.”
“Looking forward to it Tia. Later,” Josh said. She heard him disconnect the call.
Tia pressed the button on the cordless phone in her hand and handed it back to Danny. “Thankies.” He stood there as she started to put her earphones in to get back to work. His posture was stiff, and a frown was still on his face, yet he said nothing.
Tia looked up at him. “Did you need me to watch the desk or something?”
“Nope, so… um big date?” Danny asked.
“Oh, Josh has been asking me out for the longest time. He needs a date for the dinner thing at the lodge,” Tia said casually.
“I’m sure he will be scrumptious,” Danny snapped. “Be careful with Josh. I’ve known him all my life, and he’s a lady killer.”
“As in there’s a bevy of ladies buried in his yard?” Tia teased.
Danny’s frown got deeper. “You know what I mean.”
This time she sighed. “Thanks for the worry, Danny, but I’m just out for some fun.”
“He is too. You deserve better than a roll between the sheets.”
Tia felt her irritation rise. “Danny, what would you know about what I deserve? If you’re so worried about who I’m dating, maybe you should make a move instead of waffling around. Since I see myself sun-tanning in Fiji before that happens, I will thank you to butt out and let me be the one who chooses if I want to boink the construction worker or not.”
She shoved her earphones in and turned her music on high, but still was very aware of the man standing close by. She breathed out a huge sigh when he turned on his heels and strode away. She didn’t want to put him in his place, but it needed to be done. He had two choices — make a move or get out of the way — but she wasn’t about to wait any longer or make him feel she was putting her life on a shelf like the toys in the toyshop.