Her Christmas SEAL: Excript 2!
Lucky Paws Christmas Tree Farm was located twenty miles outside of Strong. I hadn’t had much call to go out there in the two years I’d been living in Strong and working for Donovan Brothers as a smoke jumper, but local gossip claimed that Lucky, the owner, had gone into Christmas tree farming some twenty years ago, determined to make a quick buck growing trees. The Christmas business had turned out to be anything but quick since the trees took a good ten years to mature, but Lucky had hung in there. Somewhere along the line, the man had expanded. The billboard—sporting an animated reindeer head—announced sixty acres of cut-your-own trees, a Santa’s village, a sleigh ride, Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe, and ice skating. I’d rather have stormed an insurgent stronghold with my bare hands than gone Christmas shopping, but there you had it. My Holly was in there. A guy did what he had to do.
When I pulled my truck into the lot, the place was already bustling. Kids were running around, shrieking, and climbing on everything that didn’t blink, whir, or chime out Christmas carols. A fat guy in a red suit shoved a candy cane at me and pointed in the general direction of the trees. I fell in with the crowd, looking for Holly.
Finding her turned out to be surprisingly easy. She met me at the entrance of the tree lot, although I doubted it was on purpose. She kind of did a double take when she saw me, like only the Easter Bunny would have been less expected. She was just going to have to get used to having me around, I decided.
I liked today’s outfit way better than yesterday’s lumberjack look, but maybe that was because she was mostly naked. She was dressed as an elf in a short green skirt that barely skimmed the top of her thighs. A matching green jacket hugged her boobs, and even though her “fur” cuffs appeared to be mid molt, I was a happy man. As an added bonus, the red-and-white-striped stockings had me wondering if they went all the way up—or stopped just under her hem. And if she’d let me find out or kick me with her steel-toed boots. Those boots were the only practical thing about her employee uniform.
“Put your tongue back in your mouth,” she snapped. That’s my Holly. She’d always called me on my shit.
I grinned at her. “Just appreciating the view, babe.”
Fortunately for me, I was wearing steel toes too. Barely felt it when she took a shortcut across my foot.
She mumbled something that sure sounded like it would put her on Santa’s naughty list. “What are you doing here?”
“I don’t look like the kind of guy who gets his Christmas shopping done early?”
She snorted. “How long have we known each other?”
Twelve years and nowhere near long enough. “I want to pick out a tree.” I pointed to the pin fixed on her right boob. “According to that, you’re gonna bring the ax and help me find the tree of my dreams.”
“You don’t really want a tree.” She folded her arms over her chest as if that could erase the perky claim of her nametag.
“You telling a paying customer what he does or doesn’t want?” We’d had this conversation once back in high school, when she’d been working at the local Dairy Queen. Then we’d squabbled over ice cream, but I’d learned that I had an important ally in her boss. Money talked.
I had her, and we both knew it. Sure enough, she tossed a quick glance over her shoulder at Santa Lucky. The old guy was staring in our direction, clearly contemplating an intervention. He wasn’t letting any money walk off his lot, and we both knew it.
I leaned down and brushed my mouth over her ear. “You know what happens to naughty girls.”
She jumped, her elbow “accidentally” digging into my rib cage. “If you get me fired, I’ll kill you.”
Duly noted. I might be doing her a favor to get her out of here and the Christmas carols blasting over the PA system. “You really like working here?”
She shrugged and headed toward Ye Olde Christmas Tree Shacke. I followed. Her skirt wasn’t any longer in the back. It twitched with each irritated bounce. Fan-fucking-tastic. Up until now, I’d really just wanted to see her. I hadn’t thought further ahead than that, but it looked like I’d be buying a tree unless Holly was going Lizzie Borden on me with the chainsaw she snagged from a shelf in the Shacke.
“There aren’t many job options,” she said warily. “And I happen to like Christmas.”
I had no idea what to say, so I grabbed the chainsaw from her and struck out on the nearest path. I walked fast, and I had at least a foot on Holly. She’d always been a tiny thing. She hustled along behind me, babbling crap about liability and farm rules. Apparently I wasn’t allowed to handle the chainsaw. Since I wasn’t letting her cart heavy stuff around when I was right here, we were kinda at an impasse.
The path wasn’t bad the first few hundred yards, beaten down by the hordes hungry for one hundred percent genuine, fresh-cut Christmas trees. Even got a few flakes of snow falling from the sky, although I wouldn’t have put it past the Santa dude to have a snowmaker hidden somewhere. Probably good for business. After the first five minutes, the crowd thinned out, and after ten it disappeared altogether. It was just me, Holly, and about a thousand pine trees. A thought struck me.
“Why were you up on the mountain cutting branches when you have about a million trees here?”
She shot me a look. I couldn’t tell if she thought I was an idiot or just giving her grief. After a moment, she went ahead and answered. “I was tipping. It pays well.”
I’d never tipped, but I understood the principle. You went out in the forest, cut off the tips of pine branches, and then sold the green stuff to the good folks who made Christmas wreaths and that decorative garland stuff. It was kind of like making Popsicle sticks for the arts and crafts crowd. As far as pays well went, I was skeptical. Tree tips weren’t made out of gold, and Lucky had a reputation for being cheap.
I asked the obvious question. “You got money worries?”
Her hands shot to her hips. “You can’t ask me that!”
Where I came from, we didn’t see the point in pussyfooting around the issue. Unless she had a thing for pine trees and fresh air, there was only one reason to be hauling ass around the mountain, cutting branches. She needed the money.
“Can too,” I pointed out, thinking things through. “Mr. Dick not play fair in the divorce settlements?”
Because I’d be happy to fix that for her. Several possible solutions came to mind, and none of them involved me writing her a check. Not that she wasn’t welcome to raid my bank account, but I let myself fantasize for a moment about beating the crap out of her deadbeat ex-husband.
Her mouth opened. Closed like she’d bit back the words she’d intended to say. She made one cute, cranky elf. Fuck, but I wanted to kiss the frown right off her face. I also really, really liked the red-and-white-striped stockings. My eyes kept going back to those.
“You’re not freezing?”
Because if she was, I could think of a whole lotta ways to warm her up.