No Mistletoe Required
Dan Beckins isn’t sure how he let his best friend con him into volunteering to build Santa’s Winter Wonderland at the local hospital. He’s got no problems with charity work, but anything Christmas-related is off-limits ever since he lost his parents on Christmas Day years ago. The only bright spot is working with smoking-hot Anna Smith.
Anna Smith loves Christmas and volunteering at the hospital is one of her yearly highlights. She had leukemia as a teen and then a breast cancer scare in her mid-twenties, and is now operating under a self-imposed rule that she can’t have a relationship until the doctors give her a clean bill of health.
A little fling might be permissible, though, and sexy lawyer-turned-carpenter Dan seems like the perfect candidate. But when chemistry flares and the two start forming a real connection, will Anna run away before like turns to love?
Carina Press | Kobo | iTunes | Sony
“Stop staring at the jailbait.”
Dan Beckins’s best friend, Geoff, knocked him in the gut with an elbow. “I’m disappointed in you. You’re a lawyer. You know jailbait implies they’re under eighteen. These are sorority girls. They’re all at least eighteen.” His eyes drifted back to the curve of some undergrad’s butt as she bent over to tie her shoe. “God bless the Greek system.
“Uh huh. We’re divorce attorneys, not defense. Spare me your excuses.” Dan picked up another two by four and angled it until it rested on top of the others. “Get your ass over here, Greek Lightening, and hold this steady before I drop it on your head. Don’t think I’m going to forgive you for roping me into this project by conveniently forgetting to mention the Christmas angle.” He was tempted to drop it anyway, just to exact a little revenge.
Geoff walked over and then pretended to be helpful by holding the board while Dan hammered. His eyes, though, stayed on the other side of the room where a dozen college girls stood around a table, chattering so loudly Dan thought his head was going to explode. The table itself was a glitter-bomb of red and green craft projects. They were setting up the Santa’s Workshop in the rec hall of the children’s hospital as their philanthropic event of the semester. And honestly, while he could do with a little less high-pitched chatter, they weren’t doing a bad job. What he remembered of sorority girls from his own time in school had left the impression of flighty, shallow females caring only when the next chance to snag the head frat boy of the week was. But these ladies seemed focused on both fun and functionality, wanting to do a good job. The high-pitched squealing, he could do without. But at least they were dedicated workers. Unlike some people… He shot a glance at his friend. But with the Kappas help, maybe he’d escape the Winder Hell Land earlier than expected.
Dan grunted and swung the board around, only sighing a little as Geoff ducked easily and escaped the path of the two-by-four.
“Watch it, man.” Geoff rubbed a hand over his hair. “I only have one head.”
“You must have lost your mind to think I’d want in on this.”
“It’s charity.” Geoff grinned at him.
“It’s Christmas charity,” Dan corrected. “You know it’s not the same thing to me. I never would have volunteered if you’d told me the full project. You knew that and you withheld information. And like a complete idiot, I agreed without extracting the facts.”
“Withheld information. Extracting facts.” Geoff scoffed and grabbed a piece of sandpaper. “This isn’t a divorce deposition, dude.
“But much like a bastard cheating husband,” Dan said, pointing the claw of his hammer at his friend, “you will pay. Big time. I have gutters that need attention.”
At least he could put his skills from his manual-labor-to-pay-for-law-school days to good use again.
“You know, the great thing about southern California…short shorts are never inappropriate.” Geoff’s eyes followed a brunette with a tight ass as she walked over to grab some paper and walk back to join her sisters.
Dan slapped him on the back of the head. “Concentrate. I almost cut your thumb off.” Not really, since he was hammering. But his friend wasn’t paying enough attention either way.
Geoff ripped his hands away from the wood so fast it might have been on fire and then the structure clattered to the ground. The sound of wood banging against concrete flooring echoed in the room, and all the girls turned to stare at them.
Big brown eyes stared at him, though he couldn’t tell if she was annoyed or surprised. The obvious leader of the sorority sisters, Anna Smith had been taking charge and kicking ass since the early morning roll call. And nobody’s ass was safe around Sergeant Anna. Even his. The girls listened to her like they were her little bootcamp recruits, even though most stood nearly a foot taller than her. If the Sarge was anything over five feet, he’d be shocked. But her presence demanded attention.
And he couldn’t help but give it to her, though he did his best to hide it. She wasn’t willowy or slender. More like athletic, like she could kick ass on the flag football field. She wore shorts too, but they weren’t nearly as short as those of her friends. They still showcased tight legs, with thighs that flexed as she walked, and toned calves.
Legs like that made him think of pushing her up against a wall, hitching her up and letting those strong thighs squeeze his waist while he thrust up into that wet heat and…
And this was absolutely not where his mind should be going to with a college kid.
Her face just seemed more mature, along with her attitude. A sense of seriousness wrapped around her, compared to the more carefree, giggly females surrounding her. Not that the other girls weren’t working hard, because they were. But the Sarge seemed to make it her personal mission that the entire group would be on time, if not early. And he liked that. A woman who understood the importance of a deadline.
Anna laughed at something one of her girls said, and his mouth twitched in response. He fought it back before the twitch turned into a full smile. The fact that he had to fight it was saying something, given he didn’t usually have much to smile about in the month of December.
“Ready to head to Grandma’s? I’m pretty sure there are a few gifts under her tree with your name on them.”
His smiling mother leaned over him, kissed him on the top of his head. The scent of lemon surrounded him, and he breathed deep.
Dan shook his head. Where the hell had that come from? And why did he—Dan sniffed. Was he going crazy or did he smell lemon still?
A quick glance around revealed a Kappa behind them, wiping down one of the shelves with lemon-scented spray. Damn.
Geoff nudged him, and he gratefully accepted the distraction with his special brand of good cheer. “What?”
“Like you haven’t been looking a certain someone’s way all day?”
“Hell, no,” he lied easily. Even if she was something like twenty-two, it was way too young for him. He was thirty-freaking-one. He’d outgrown college girls when he graduated law school.
“Probably some fifth year senior,” he muttered, mostly to make himself feel better after looking like a jackass with clumsy fingers. “Help me pick this thing back up. And either pay attention and get your eyes off the scenery or I’m leaving. This was your project to start with. You lured me here under false pretenses.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Geoff gave him a lopsided grin and tugged on his own ear. “Come on. How the hell can you be so grouchy doing something so good? It’s for the kids, man.”
He didn’t care for Christmas, and he didn’t much care for kids either. His ideal Christmas vacation was spent on an adults-only beach somewhere, with the only decoration being a little peppermint garnish in his cocktail. Too bad he’d chosen this year to stay home for the holidays in order to save up for a bigger trip over the following summer.
But he knew a good project when he saw one, and despite his apathy toward the under-twelve set, he knew the kids at the hospital could use some cheer. They didn’t choose to be sick. He just didn’t have to admit that out loud.
He put his entire concentration into finishing the platform where they would place Santa’s big chair—the next project on the list. The sooner he got this done, the sooner the Kappa Kappa Whatevers could sprinkle their glitter-glued snowflakes around and call it done.
And the sooner it was done, the sooner he could stop trying to avoid looking over at Sorority Sergeant every five minutes to check her out, only to feel guilty and weird about it seconds later.
Anna finished the list and taped it up to the side wall, next to all the other lists. “Okay, so Mandy is going to finish constructing all the snowflakes we’ll hang from the ceiling beams, and then she and Georgiana are going to grab the ladders and get to that. That only leaves…” She scanned her lists. “Tam. Can you and Beth head over to the rental store and bring back the costumes we’re supposed to have so we can pass those out to the volunteers tonight before they go home?”
“Got it, boss.” Tam gave her a little fake salute and grabbed Beth’s hand, laughing as they made a break for it.
Anna knew what the girls called her behind her back—Sergeant. That was fine with her. One person had to be in charge, or else nobody was and nothing got done. Lesson learned early in life. And this project mattered to her too much to let anyone slack off.
Including those not actually a part of her alma mater’s sorority. She glanced quickly toward the borrowed muscle for the day. The one who’d walked in that morning carrying the fake sprig of mistletoe—Geoff—seemed to be more interested in what her girls were up to than his own assignment. But his friend, Dan, was hard at work. Almost too hard. As if the three ghosts from Dickens’s Christmas Carol were going to haunt him if he didn’t finish up.
She admired his dedication. And getting the Santa’s Workshop completed on time was of the utmost importance. But he wasn’t passing out holiday cheer either. Was he in a hurry to get somewhere? Or did he just not have the spirit of Christmas down pat yet? It was still a little early, after all.
He paused in his hammering to wipe his brow and frown once more at the work. And despite the Grinch-like expression, and his I’m Busy attitude, he was freaking cute. All that shaggy dark blond hair falling into his eyes, those arms straining under his polo shirt, his eyes focused with laser-beam intensity on the task at hand. Not that he’d noticed her at all. Though his friend had been all but drooling in their direction all morning, Dan hadn’t given them more than a glance all day.
She wouldn’t mind a glance or two. That familiar secret tug of appeal had started early that morning when she’d introduced herself. A healthy dose of attraction, liberally laced with good old fashioned lust expounded by the sad fact that it’d been, well…awhile since her last affair. The man was good-looking. And there wasn’t any point in denying that she wouldn’t mind a quick Christmas fling.
Deciding the Kappas were busy enough for the moment, she wandered over to inspect a few other groups that were clearing out the recreation room before casually making her way over to the hammer-and-nails crew.
“Boys. How are things going?”
Geoff gave her a lazy grin, not at all hiding the fact that he wished he had X-ray vision to see through her bulky sweatshirt. “Going great, Sarge—I mean, Anna. I don’t suppose you ladies need help with your glue gun or anything, huh?”
He was so ridiculously obvious and good-natured, she couldn’t help but laugh. “No, thanks. Us little ladies can manage the glue just fine on our own.” She paused, waiting for Dan to acknowledge her presence. Smile, nod, even just look at her. Nada. She cleared her throat. “Actually, Dan, could you help me with something for a minute?”
He glanced up, a few locks of hair falling into his eyes. He pushed at them with his wrist, hand still gripping the hammer. He looked resigned, dreading what she was about to ask of him. “What?”
Ah, and good Yuletide to you, too… “I could use a little help carrying in the drink cooler, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“I don’t mind!” Geoff popped up like a toy in a wack-a-mole game.
“You haven’t done a quarter of the work around here.” Dan stood as well and slapped the hammer in his friend’s hand, simultaneously shoving on his shoulder until Geoff was back down on the ground. “Build something. It’s good for your character.”
“Great.” She kept a determined smile on her face and started toward the door that led to the cafeteria. It didn’t escape her notice that he shoved his hands in his pockets and kept a good foot of distance between them at all time. Okay, fine. Quiet, surly type. She could work with that. Her particular brand of persistence would come in handy. “First time volunteering for the Workshop, right?”
“Yup.” He stared straight ahead.
Undeterred, she tried again. “And you signed up with your friend Geoff.”
“He signed me up.” The words were bit off like they tasted bad.
“You’re both lawyers?”
“Uh huh.” He batted at a silver star that hung too low from the ceiling.
“It’s a great project. The kids are always so excited. So little happiness exists between these walls, and most of them can’t leave, even for the day, to go do something like this. It’s such a blessing to bring the fun to them, right?”
“Blessing. Sure is.” His tone was about as enthusiastic as a dental patient being told they were getting a surprise two-for-one root canal.
She just had to be attracted to the one who hated talking, didn’t she?
Time to tactfully retreat. She could smell a losing battle when it was upon her. “Cafeteria’s in here. I warned them earlier, so they should have the cooler full with water and sodas.” She pushed through the double doors and into the busy eatery full of tired-looking doctors and nurses, parents with determined smiles on their faces, and a few children who looked overjoyed to be out of their hospital room, even if it was just a trip down the hall. The smell of meatloaf and bland mashed potatoes clung to the air, and one sad, slightly tilting fake Christmas tree stood in the corner, forgotten and alone.
“Hey, Betty.” She smiled at the older woman wearing reindeer antlers on her head and manning the cash register. “How goes it?”
The woman smiled back. “Anna, sweetie. You know how it goes. Here for the cooler?”
“That I am. Is it ready?”
“Sure is. And if I’m not mistaken, they slipped some treats in there for you volunteers too.”
“Fantastic. Thanks, Betty.” She angled her head to Dan. “Back here. With the thing full of ice and drinks, I’m definitely going to need a hand.” He followed silently, no surprise there. But when she went to grab one of the handles, he just stepped in front and hefted the entire cooler himself.
“Uh, that’s going to get heavy, and we’re on the other side of the hospital,” she cautioned. Though really, watching a good-looking, strong guy hefting around big object wasn’t a hardship. The cuffs of his short-sleeved polo cut across his biceps as they flexed with the weight. She had an unholy urge to trace one fingertip over the skin right there next to the cotton.
“It’s fine. I’m not going to fall over. Just lead me back. This place is a maze.”
“It’s not too hard once you get the hang of it. Thanks, Betty!” She waved as they pushed back through the doors.
“Spend much time here?”
So he was talking freely, which was an improvement. But really not the best topic. In the most neutral voice she could manage, she said, “The Kappas have been doing the Santa’s Workshop project for a few years now.” Total truth, and she’d been with them every year since they started.
Her intimate knowledge of the hospital really wasn’t up for discussion.
He stopped to adjust his grip on the cooler handles.
“Are you sure you don’t want help?”
He scoffed and kept walking. “No offense, but you’re kind of not much bigger than the cooler yourself.”
“No offense taken,” she chirped. She was short. Small. Petite. Vertically challenged. However you put it, she was barely five feet, and she knew it. People tended to underestimate her strength and abilities, and that was annoying more often than not. But with a he-man by her side ready and willing to do the heavy lifting by himself, she wasn’t going to say no.
Mama didn’t raise no fool.
She breathed in and closed her eyes for a moment on a sigh. “Christmas just smells different, don’t you think?”
“All I smell is antiseptic mixed with what you get when you open a new box of bandages.”
She stopped and stared at him. He could not seriously be this Grinch-tastic. “Come on. Really? Is there nothing about the holiday you like?”
He thought about that for a second. “Paid vacation time.”
She tossed her hands in the air and kept walking. “I give up. I tried to cajole you into the holiday spirit and you refuse to be budged. Is your heart three sizes too small?”
“Something’s not too small,” he muttered.
“What?” She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from grinning.
“Nothing. Look, some people just don’t get into the holiday thing. I’m one of them. I don’t need an intervention.”
“Why volunteer for the project then, if you aren’t into the meaning behind it?”
“Friday off from work?” he asked with a shrug as he waited for her to push open the door to the rec room.
Instead, she paused, looking at him. “No, I don’t believe that’s true. I think if you wanted a Friday off, you’d just take it. Instead, you’re giving up your entire weekend to finish this project.”
“I told you, Geoff signed me up.”
“But you’re still here. You could have walked away and the rest of us would have been none the wiser. You stayed.”
A slow smile crept across her face, one she didn’t bother to hold back. “I think there’s still a little bit of you that wants to get into the holiday. And you won’t, for whatever reason.”
“Nope. Open the door.”
She did then, smiling to herself again. Dan the Grinch was definitely not as grinchy as he wanted people to believe. And he was hot enough for her to admit she was attracted. Those two elements combined made up her mind.
“I’m bringing you to the dark side.”
“No. Please don’t.” He stood, cooler still in his hands, looking at her with a horrified expression. It was actually comical how terrified he looked.
She nodded. “Yup. Resign yourself. Before the weekend is over, you’re going to be humming carols and decking the halls.”
He let the cooler thump to the ground. Not taking his eyes off her, he called, “Drinks are here.”
People rushed to them, and she had to step away and break eye contact to avoid being trampled. She saw him walking back over to the platform construction area, as if the conversation had never happened.
She glanced once more at his butt as he squatted down to see the mess Geoff had made in his absence. Yeah. He was freaking cute. And a little holiday fling might be just the thing.
Carina Press | Kobo | iTunes | Sony
Praise for No Mistletoe Required
Click HERE to read an unpublished epilogue from No Mistletoe Required. (Link will take you to a blog post within Jeanette’s website.)