She’s a Holiday Grinch…
Carly Gatlin doesn’t want to spend another Christmas alone. With her beloved father gone, she’s desperate to be part of a family-so she’s spending the holidays with her step-brothers on Stewart Island. But even with sand, sun, and not a snowflake in sight, everything reminds her of what she’s lost. So no tree trimming, cookie baking, or kisses under the mistletoe for her, thanks. Especially not from Due South’s sexy bartender, Kip.
He’s a too-hot-for-his-Santa-suit killjoy…
Kip Sullivan’s moved hundreds of miles away from his family who’d like to see him married off before his next birthday-on Christmas Eve. Then ten days before the big event, his meddling relatives arrive en masse, and dear God, they’re planning to stay. With match-makers breathing down his neck, it’s becoming harder to ignore the temptation to unwrap Carly like a present under the tree.
The Kiwi barbecue isn’t the only thing sizzling this summer…
Kip agrees to help make Carly’s first New Zealand Christmas special. He’s got five holiday missions to complete-one involving a frisky fake reindeer-before he hopes to claim a mistletoe kiss…and maybe even Carly’s heart.
Christmas just isn’t Christmas without this spicy yet sweet Due South novella.
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The enemy, while not quite four feet tall, were still sly little devils, and he’d deal with them without mercy.
Instead of spending a relaxing morning puttering around the house before his shift, Kip snuck around his parents’ rental property armed with a water gun. Lizzie had texted him at eight, ordering him to get his butt up to the house and entertain his nephews—oh, and to bring Carly, since their mum already needed her for an elf costume fitting.
So, while Carly stayed inside the house, Kip, his dad, Grace, and the boys had been shooed outside. With high-powered water guns.
No complaint about that.
Kip peeled off his soaked tee shirt and dumped it on the stairs as he climbed onto the wraparound veranda. Thirty seconds ago, he’d spotted Logan, darting around the side of the house. The twins were part of a SWAT team—Logan with Kip’s dad, and Lucas teamed with Grace. Kip’d been told he was big enough and ugly enough to go solo.
His lips peeled up into a smile. James Sullivan might be the fastest at applying cups to a cow, but he was no match for Kip in a free-for-all water battle.
Keeping his finger on the plastic trigger, Kip padded across the wooden decking close to the walls of the house. The drapes were still drawn in the master bedroom, which his parents were using, and a skitter of awareness danced down his spine. Carly was in that room, probably in her underwear. Exposing miles of skin…
Perfect, lightly tanned skin the color of barely toasted bread.
Kip shook his head and bit back a laugh. Wasn’t he the romantic? Toast-colored skin—Jesus. Not to mention the fact he shouldn’t be imagining his co-worker in her panties.
He paused at the corner of the house to get his mind back in the game. Lucas was out in the yard somewhere, creeping around with his eye-rolling but secretly enjoying-the-fun, older cousin.
Kip raised the barrel of his rifle and slooowly peered around the corner. Movement came from the shadowy interior of the open front door. He’d have to cross past it in order to get to the other side of the house.
“No water in the house,” had been his mother’s strict instructions on doling out the water guns. The five of them had nodded solemnly, Kip and his dad exchanging glances of yeah, right, it’s on.
Thankful he’d chosen to play in shorts, tee shirt, and bare feet, Kip eased around the corner, rifle ready for action. He moved silently along the decking.
Carly stepped out onto the veranda, sunlight catching strands of her long hair and transforming them into streams of coppery fire. Kip froze, one foot in front of the other, and then ducked into a defensive crouch. Naively, considering the five armed hunters patrolling the grounds, she looked straight ahead. Her stellar breasts sat high and proud under a white shirt. She stretched her arms to the sky and yawned, some of her smooth, toast-colored skin appearing in a strip above the waistband of her shorts.
His fingers itched, warring with the part of his brain saying: Mate, she’ll kick you in the balls for real.
The smile appeared back on his face. Nah, he’d never been good at ignoring a challenge. He aimed the rifle, pulled the trigger, and watched the arc of water sparkle in the sun until it reached the target.
Bull’s-eye! He shoots, he scores!
Carly’s head whipped toward him, those soft, pale pink lips that had caused him to toss and turn the night before parted in an almost perfect O. Water soaked through her shirt, and dripped off her shorts. Yet his victim hadn’t screamed. She just stood there, wide-eyed and drenched.
So he blasted her again.
Her hands rose in defense, which didn’t do a hell of a lot to prevent her shirt becoming even wetter. Add in the bonus of two rock-hard nipples poking through the thin cotton, and man, he could keep firing until the chamber went dry.
“You.” She stabbed a finger at him, which caused a delicious wobble of her incredible tits. With her other hand, she swiped water droplets off her face, her whiskey eyes flashing promises of bloody revenge. “You. Are. Dead.”
“Empty threats, sweetheart.”
Voices behind her from inside the house grew louder.
“Ohmigawd. Kip just soaked her!”
“Mum, look what he’s done!”
Lizzie poked her head out of the doorway, and then jerked it back in when Kip fired a warning shot.
“Vee! Where’s the backup artillery? Quick—bring it here!”
Carly grinned at him. “Game on, pretty-boy.”
Kip spun and darted back around the corner, heading down the garden to the outside tap for a reload and then to set up an ambush.
A private ambush.
Carly squeezed what moisture she could out of her shirt. She blamed the blast of cold water for her tight, tingling nipples.
Nothing whatsoever to do with Kip’s heated gaze fanning over her. Or the low-in-the-belly sizzle she got at the sight of hard muscles crisscrossing his bared chest and abs. Nope, nuh-uh, impossible.
Yet, she hadn’t stopped thinking about those muscles since she’d found herself squished on top of them two days ago. The belly sizzle indicated at least part of her would like to be squished up against him again.
“Here.” A voice sounded from behind her.
She turned, all sexy thoughts shoved aside as Kip’s mother held out a gigantic water gun.
“It’s locked and loaded. Take it and make for the treeline.” Heather angled her chin toward a grove of pohutukawa trees, their crimson flower-laden branches sweeping down over the beach.
“You saw him headed there?” Carly hefted the sloshing gun, which looked more like a bazooka in her limited experience with water weapons.
“No.” Heather grinned. “But I know my son. He’ll be waiting there to ambush you.”
A shiver worked down her spine. Ambushed by that tall, dark-haired hunk of hotness? That kind of shiver was ninety percent pleasurable anticipation, ten percent girl, this is a bad idea.
“My dad was an Air Force officer. I got this.” Bold words for a woman trembling in her Chuck Taylors.
“Show no mercy.”
Carly laughed and gave Heather a mock salute. “Oh, he’ll pay.”
She ran down the steps to the lawn, scalp prickling at the open exposure until she reached the fence encircling the property. Her back to the wooden posts, she edged along it until she came to the gate closing the yard off from the beach.
Her pulse an endless peal of thunder in her throat, she ducked down and peered at the sandy trail leading to the beach. Man-sized footprints pointed as effectively as an arrow. Well, now—Heather was right. Kip would be waiting for her under the shadowy branches of the pohutukawas.
Carly cracked open the gate, slipped through and then latched it again. The beach was off limit to the twins unless they were accompanied by an adult, which worked well for her plan of humiliating their uncle by emptying her jumbo-sized water tank in his smug face.
Instead of following the short path to the beach, Carly stuck to the grassy bank running alongside it. The ambushee would turn the tables on the ambusher, with any luck. She moved at a low crouch, scanning the glistening ocean, the scents of sea-salt and woodsy vegetation filling her nose, and thigh-high weeds tickling as they brushed against her bare legs. If she focused on the sensory overload, she could pretend this was just a summer vacation and not eight days until her once favorite holiday. Blinding sun streaming over her damp skin did a great job of convincing her body-clock that it was mid-July, not mid-December.
She stepped under the shade of the first huge pohutukawa, blinking as her eyes struggled to adapt.
“Concentrate, zoomie,” she whispered. Her fingers fumbled up the grooved handle to find the trigger. “You got this.”
“Not this time, sweetheart.”
A strong arm wrapped around her body, pinning her arms helplessly to her side. Plastic pressed to the throbbing vein in her throat. Water seeped out of the gun and dripped down her neck. The shivers returned with a vengeance, but this time, they had nothing to do with chilly water and everything to do with the man pressed full length against her.
Warm breath puffed against her ear, and the cradle of his hips butted into her bottom. “Drop your weapon.”
Kip may as well have said, “Drop your panties.” His deep, rough voice affected her the same way.
Never surrender your weapon, zoomie.
Her throat seized, her mouth parched to sticky dryness. “No.”
Plastic squeaked, and more water oozed out of the gun, trickling down her overheated skin. The strong fingers wrapped around her upper arm flexed, not tight enough to hurt, just enough for her to know she couldn’t break free without a struggle—and another soaking.
“Resistance is futile.” Something soft and warm brushed over her earlobe, continued with butterfly lightness down the column of her throat to the very spot where her vein leaped under the skin. “I have you right where I want you. So drop it. I win.”
Her knees filled with wibbly-wobbly Jell-O, and her fingers on the gun handle had all the strength of mini sponge cakes. She was a sweet, hot mess from him grabbing her and breathing on her neck? Double-dammit. She’d underestimated the enemy’s skills at tactical engagement.
The water gun dropped from her hand and thudded to the ground.
“I’d like to negotiate the terms of my surrender.” Her voice sounded breathy and strained, as if she’d just returned from one of her dad’s enforced five-mile runs.
“I don’t think you’re in a position to negotiate anything.”
“How about you take that gun from my throat, and we discuss this like adults?”
Kip chuckled. “If I let you go, will you try some crazy military jiu-jitsu shit on me?”
“I could, you know. I have some moves.”
“Oh, I bet you do.” He released his grip, sliding the hand restraining her slowly around her waist, leaving a trail of heat behind under her wet shirt.
Carly dropped to her knees, scooped up the gun, and rolled onto her back—triggering a blast of water that hit Kip squarely in the groin. He froze as water soaked the front of his board shorts and pitter-pattered to the earth. The thin synthetic fabric, in an unfortunate color choice of white and pale-green plaid, enhanced more than it hid. And what it enhanced was a lack of underwear—Kip Sullivan was fighting dirty by going commando.
Carly blinked, the nozzle of her water pistol still aimed at his crotch. Shouldn’t cold water have the opposite effect on a man? Evidently, they grew them tough here in New Zealand, because the water temperature hadn’t affected his package at all.
She licked dry lips and scrambled to her feet, backing up a short distance to get a clearer shot at him should he advance.
A slow smile curled onto his face. “That was pretty damn low.”
“I aimed low.”
And she was kinda regretting it now, because, day-yum—well-endowed, hot guy looking at her as if she were lunch.
Kip shifted his hips, and her gaze tracked the movement like a kitten pouncing after the elusive red dot on a laser. Oh, boy. She needed to stop that, right now. Staring at a co-worker’s private parts was not part of her job description.
Only he didn’t feel like her co-worker any more.
He pointed his weapon, his smile widening. “You seem to have quite the fascination with my junk.”
“In your dreams, pretty-boy.”
He squirted her, the water splattering her shorts, soaking through them to her suitable-for-a-mom-to-see, plain cotton panties.
“You!” she choked.
“Should’ve worn a swim suit like I did.” He shot her again, this time between her boobs.
Her lungs locked tight, the same kind of stunned breathlessness she experienced when diving into Sunshine Bay’s deceptively warm-looking waters. Goosepimples raced up and down her body, her nipples hardening into two little darts, trying to poke a hole through her still-damp shirt.
“But then, wet is a good look for you.”
“I didn’t ask to be part of this fight.” Carly nailed him right in the heart with another long water blast.
He advanced toward her, and she backed up, deeper into the trees’ shadows. Little birds twittered and rustled among the branches, and from the direction of the house, the twins shrieked with excitement. Kip glanced briefly over his shoulder, the smile on his face when he turned back wicked enough to curl her toes inside her sneakers.
“Don’t expect any help from the troops,” he said.
Kip moved forward, so Carly hit him again—a gut shot this time. For her own sanity, she kept her gaze above the dangly laces of his board shorts, which already rode dangerously low on his hips. This time, the blast of water only just reached him. She was running out of ammo.
He laughed and gained two more steps. Carly retreated until her bottom hit the solid resistance of the tree trunk.
The empty water pistol slipped to the ground, and she held up her hands. “You win.”
Kip padded closer, the faint sloshing sound indicating he wasn’t short on firepower.
“No other tricks, Carly?” He stood close to her, his bare feet either side of hers, one arm braced on the branch above her shoulder, the other still holding the water pistol at his side.
Sunlight arrowed through the leaves, and a gentle breeze caused a shower of gold-tipped crimson needles from the overhanging blossoms to drift down on their heads. One caught in his hair, and she plucked it out, her hand hovering for a moment, the crimson needle dropping out of sight. She rubbed the dark strands—one might even call them silky. She hadn’t expected the texture of his hair to be so soft. But then, she hadn’t expected to ever be standing this close to him.
Working together, they maintained a normal, friendly distance. They passed each other bottles, bumped arms or hips when they jostled to make up drinks side by side, and bantered back and forth while they closed up at nights. Normal, friendly stuff.
Kip stood so close, faint streaks of gold surrounding his pupils were visible. Light dappled across his face, highlighting the tiny scar high on his forehead—a flaw she’d never noticed before—and water droplets speckled the stubble on his jaw. His nearness had somehow unhinged her mind. She wanted to touch—badly wanted to touch…and to taste.
Don’t do anything stupid, zoomie.
Okay, but wasn’t Christmas called the Silly Season for a reason?
Carly slid her fingers into the thick, dark hair and tugged Kip’s head slightly forward. Ahhh, the satisfaction of his sharp, indrawn breath. She should draw the moment out longer, torture both of them with the anticipation. But she was the kind of girl who couldn’t resist shaking her presents under the tree.
So she kissed him.
A kiss she’d intended to be a quick, three-second-at-the-most, flirty touch of lips. Just enough to transfer a little of her strawberry flavored lip balm. Except, there must have been a secret ingredient in the balm, as once his mouth, firm and smooth and delicious, fused to hers, she could not, God help her, drag herself away.
The tip of his tongue traced a line of fire along the seam of her mouth, and she opened with a gasp, allowing him to deepen the connection. Delusions of control? Obliterated when his tongue touched hers.
Louder than the surf, Carly’s heartbeat thudded in her ears, a tidal flow of superheated blood drawn to the areas of her body touching him. The sensitive tips of her breasts grazed his chest, and her legs, trapped between rough bark and the damp fabric of his board shorts, trembled.
A low growl rumbled in his chest, and his hand cupped her face, drawing them closer. The touch of his rough palm, and his tongue dancing along hers in the sexiest of tangos, jerked her out of her kiss-drunk stupor.
Hot and intense steamrolled her fun and flirty intention flat. But to Kip, who’d no doubt kissed half the eligible women in Oban, this was likely a casual lip-lock. Fun, flirty…and easily forgotten.
She tore her mouth away, and Kip’s eyes blinked open in shock. She ducked to the side, snatching the water gun from his lax hand. Applying a bogus smile on her mouth—one that said, I’m totally not affected by your smoking-hot-kiss—Carly aimed the pistol at Kip’s face. His gorgeous face, with his hair sexily rumpled from her fingers, lips slightly parted, and his eyes quickly clearing from confusion into their usual sharp intelligence.
He raised both hands in surrender. “That’s one hell of a distraction tactic.”
“Who dares wins, so they say.”
“I’m happy to let you win if this is the kind of game we’re playing.”
The smile that’d charmed so many women before her appeared, flushing another surge of tingly, feel-good-bubbles through her and making the idea of playing with Kip a lot more tempting. Which meant she really, really needed to leave before she changed her mind and jumped him.
“Game’s over, I win.”
“I guess you do. This round.” He leaned back against the tree trunk and crossed his ankles. “Go and announce your victory, sweetheart.”
Lips curving into smirk, she said, “I will.”
Then her gaze dropped past the waistband of his shorts.
Definitely commando. Dear Lord…
Carly shut her mouth, gumming her lips together—easier to keep the ribbon of drool inside. Definitely time to leave.
She turned and hurried out of the trees, the sound of his low and dirty chuckle trailing after her.
Copyright © Tracey Alvarez 2014
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