“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he sang, his hand straying to the holster with the gun he kept strapped under his leather vest.
A rustle in a bale of hay at the far end of the barn snared his attention, and he almost drew his gun, but stayed the motion at the last minute. Good thing, because the head that popped out belonged to a little girl and not the enemy.
Blonde hair in fat curls framing chubby cheeks made the giant green eyes staring at him all the more striking. And freaky. Because she stared. And stared. Yet she didn’t say a word.
First impulse? Run from the adorable little girl. Instead, of fleeing from her deadly cuteness, he channeled his sarge and barked, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
Her eyes widened, and with a squeak of fear, she dove back into the hay.
Brilliant. Just brilliant. He’d scared a little girl. As if he didn’t suffer enough guilt, now he felt like a total seal. Which rhymed with heel. But seals were dumber than his foot.
And barking at a tiny little girl definitely ranked as dumb.
I should just walk away before I make things worse. But given her age and the fact there wasn’t another adult around…
Sigh. He gentled his tone. “I’m sorry, sweetie. I didn’t mean to sound so gruff. You took me by surprise, which, hey, is pretty impressive considering I used to be in the army.”
Not a creature stirred, not even a child.
How about a promise? “I won’t hurt you.”
“Does anyone know you’re here?” In other words, was there an adult nearby freeing him to escape this uncomfortable situation?
A slight rustle of hay answered him but didn’t clarify the situation.
Another heavy sigh left him. “Come on, sweetie, I can’t leave you here alone. Reid would have my a—um, butt. Talk to me.”
Slowly, the golden curls emerged with bits of straw stuck to them. Big eyes blinked at him.
“Are you lost? “
She shook her head.
“Does you mom or dad know you’re here?”
A negative shake.
“Can I help you?”
She tilted her head and perused him. What was it with certain members of the opposite sex? Where did they learn that ability to give you a look? You know the one. The look that made you want to squirm, knowing you were probably coming up short in their estimation.
Except, he didn’t fail this time. As if seeing something that satisfied her, the little blonde cherub nodded before lisping, “Yes.”
“What can I help you with, sweetie?”
“Not me. Santa.”
A frown creased his brow. “Santa?” He almost said, “You mean Earl?” before it occurred to him the little girl might not yet know that the big, burly geezer was playing the part. She was still of an age where magic seemed possible and big fat guys on sleighs could and would deliver presents.
“I heard you talking. You need to find Rudolph. Santa needs him for his sleigh.”
Oh crap on a stick. The little girl had heard him discussing the whole Rudolph thing with Crystal, and she’d drawn her own youthful conclusion. How to explain without revealing anything?
“Sorry, sweetie, I wish I could help.” You could, chided his conscience. You’re just choosing not to.
Shut up, he snarled at his own mind. Bad enough when Reid and Crystal guilted him. He didn’t need his own thoughts to add to the pile.
How could one pair of eyes look so sad? Ack. Kyle almost made the sign of the cross in front of her because surely she had some kind of magic at work because he almost said the most ridiculous thing. He almost told her not worry, that Rudolph would be there.
“Why don’t you climb out of that pile of hay and come with me? We’ll go find your parents. They’re probably worried.”
She shrank from him.
For some reason, this caused a painful pang in him. She was too young to show such fear. Yet he knew that look. He’d borne it when he was a kid and his father came home in one of his moods. “Oh, sweetie, don’t be scared. I won’t hurt you.”
“But you’re big.”
“Yes I am. And strong.” Hmm, maybe he shouldn’t have pointed that out.
She nodded. “You are, and scary,” she added.
“Me?” He grabbed at his chest in mock horror. “Is this your way of telling me I’m ugly?”
A small giggle escaped her. “No, silly. But handsome doesn’t mean nice. That’s what my mama says.”
“In some cases, probably, but not this time. Why, I’m the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.”
“Malcolm said he was nice too, but he wasn’t. He was mean to my mama, and me.”
Wouldn’t Kyle love to teach this Malcolm a lesson about treating a woman right? “Well, I’m not this Malcolm guy, and I can tell you right now, I’m never mean to the ladies.” Even stubborn ones. “And I’ll tell you something else, if that Malcolm dude were to walk in here right now and try anything, I’d totally kick his ass.” Whoops on the language.
Thankfully she didn’t seem to notice. “You’re a knight?”
Almost did he snicker, but she seemed so serious. He held it in. “Knight in tattooed armor, sweetie. So don’t you worry that pretty little head of yours. No one will so much as fart in your direction while I’m around.”
She giggled. “Farts don’t hurt.”
“But they sure stink,” he said with a smile and a moue of distaste.
Apparently it took a bodily function jest for her to decide he was trustworthy. She emerged from her pile of hay, clutching a ragged stuffed animal in a chubby fist. When he held out his hand, he expected her to clasp it. Instead, she tucked into his reach and lifted her arms.
Despite him not spending much time around children, Kyle recognized the universal gesture for ‘pick me up’. He did, the little girl’s weight feather-light even with her jacket and boots.
“Where to, sweetie?”
“Mama’s working on the parade for Santa.”
“Then let’s go find her.” Maybe he could also get some clues on this Malcolm fellow, who seemed to think it was cool to threaten women. Kyle wanted to speak with the guy—with his fists.
Mission #737: Find this Malcolm dude and teach him a lesson. A Christmas gift to the little angel in his arms.
COMING December 16th, 2014
Move over bears, and moose, there’s a new rack in town.
Damn it, a man had his pride and a caribou a certain majestic presence, all of which could wind up ruined if he abased himself to play a simple-minded reindeer in the town’s Christmas parade.
No way was he wearing damned tinsel in his antlers.
Like hell was he sporting a red nose and pulling a sleigh.
But he changes his mind when he meets the woman in charge of the event.
Single mom, Crystal, is doing her best to offer her daughter the best Christmas ever. It’s their first in Kodiak Point, and she’s not about to let some vain jerk ruin it for her little girl. If playing dirty is what it takes…then bring on the Christmas games.
As Crystal and Kyle butt heads—and lips—they discover more than goodwill this holiday season.
They’re gifted with a second chance at love.