NY Times & USA Today Bestselling Author
It’s Christmas in Mudville and Morgan’s Farm Market is all decked out for the holidays, but the man in the Santa suit isn’t who he says he is…
I recognized him right away. The boy I’d met and fell in love with one summer twenty-three years ago, before he’d disappeared completely from my life. Now he’s back . . . and dressed as Santa. And lying about who he is. The question is why? The bigger question is, will he stick around this time?
The last thing I expected was to inherit my uncle’s farm in Mudville. No, actually, the last I’d ever expected was to be dressed as Santa Claus and see Lizzy Murphy again after all these years. She’s all grown up and goes by Elizabeth now. And she’s making me want to stick around, just when I’d been all set to go.
On his way to meet with the lawyers of his great uncle’s estate, Christopher gets lost. He hasn’t been to the farm since high school and has never traveled here alone. One thing was certain where he was is not the farm or the attorney’s office. After trying unsuccessfully to contact the lawyer, Christopher gets back on the road and continues on, hoping for signs of civilization. Not far up the road he does find a Christmas tree lot. At least he should be able to get directions. What he didn’t expect was a wealth of information on the real estate and the town’s economy while he waited to be noticed. He also didn’t expect to react to their assumption the way he does.
However, just going along with being Santa for the afternoon has him seeing Lizzy again. His first love and the woman she is now attracts him even more.
This is a favorite scene.
I sighed at one of the many daily reminders of why I’d wanted to move out of this town and to a real city since I graduated high school.
Yet here I was, still in Mudville at thirty-nine years old. And, apparently, still waiting for Santa.
This whole thing had turned out to be a lot more work—and stress—than I’d bargained for. But the Winter Wonderland was for a good cause. No doubt. The Santa photos sold here this month would benefit the local school’s grossly underfunded arts programs.
I couldn’t not have Santa in our Santa Station—the money-maker of this event. Everything needed to go as we’d planned. Not only did the school really need the money, I didn’t want the Morgan family to regret letting us set up the fundraiser at their farm market.
The idea was that families coming to buy a Christmas tree would stop for a photo. Conversely, those bringing their kids for a picture with Santa would probably make a day of it and pick their tree while they were here. Win-win for all of us. Or at least that was my hope. But not if the damn Santa didn’t get here.
I whipped out my cell phone. I’d already texted Stone and asked him to get me the volunteer’s phone number from Agnes.
My bad that I didn’t have Agnes’s or the volunteer’s number myself, but since Stone was dating Agnes’s niece Harper, I figured he could get the information for me.
Almost an hour later, I still had no Santa and no word from Stone.
I glanced toward the parking lot and blew out a breath. If the volunteer didn’t arrive in the next five minutes, we were screwed. I was going to have to send out an SOS to the Rotary members and beg for someone to get me another volunteer because without Santa, the Santa Station was going to flop.
Just when I was starting to really panic, a flash of red and white caught my eye.
He was here. Dressed and ready. Thank God.
I stepped forward, more than anxious to show him to his sleigh and get this fundraising event started.
I extended my hand with a smile and said, “Hi. You must be our Santa volunteer for today. Thank you for helping out. I’m Elizabeth Murphy.”
He paused, a frown forming between the eyebrows he’d sprayed white. I saw his mouth open and then close again behind the fake beard and mustache.
Finally, he drew in a breath and said, “Nice to meet you, Elizabeth. Um . . . does anyone ever call you Lizzy?”
I laughed. “Not since I was a teenager. Why do you ask?” It seemed like an odd question.
“Uh, no reason.” He shook his head.
“I’m sorry. What’s your name?” I asked, embarrassed I didn’t already know it.
His name was probably something I should have asked for weeks ago, in addition to getting his number. Then, all of my stress over his being late could have been avoided. Lesson learned.
“Uh, it’s, ah, Chris.”
It had taken him longer than it should to answer that simple question. Maybe he was nervous about this Santa gig. Stage fright or something. I decided to lighten the mood and hopefully put him more at ease.
“Chris, as in Cringle?” I smiled at my little joke.
“Yes, coincidentally.” He smiled too and somehow it felt familiar. Like I knew this guy.
Heck, maybe I did know him. This was a small town, surrounded by small towns. Although, I couldn’t remember any man I knew specifically named Chris.
Well, except for Christopher Nunes. My first kiss. My first crush. My first heart break.
Christopher had only been here for one summer, staying with his uncle at the Hatchett place next door to my house, but three months was all it took. He’d walked away with my heart when he left that September.
I’d heard Mr. Hatchett died last month. The farmhouse had been empty since he went into the nursing home last year. He’d rented the fields out to a local farmer years ago when he’d gotten too old to work them himself. Poor guy didn’t have any kids of his own to take over—
It hit me. Slowly at first and then all at once. Like puzzle pieces coming together until suddenly the complete picture was there. And once I saw it, it seemed so obvious, so clear, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it immediately.
His dark eyes. The dark hair peeking out beneath the wig. His hesitation when I’d asked his name.
Chris was Christopher.
The sixteen-year old girl’s crush still alive inside me had my heart speeding. The memory of that first kiss hit me so strongly it was like it had been yesterday. I remembered it well. It had been the day before he was due to leave. I was already completely in love with him. Already mourning Christopher’s departure. Missing him before he’d even left.
Where he lived seemed a million miles away to me then and I’d been determined I was going to leave a lasting impression on him, if it was the last thing I did.
I’d gotten him alone in the barn under the guise of us taking one final horseback ride before he went back home to Long Island for the start of the school year.
We were standing close. I was helping him tighten the cinch on his horse. That’s when I made my move, leaning in to press a quick kiss to his mouth.
I was scared to death, not knowing if he liked me that way.
It seemed he did. After that first awkward kiss had surprised him, he’d pulled me close for our second kiss. That one had blown me away. The memory of it, glorified over time until it was branded in my mind as pure perfection, had ruined me for all other men since.
That had been a real kiss. A tongue tangling, hand groping, so long my lips got swollen kind of kiss. And I would have ripped off my clothes and begged him to take me right then and there in the barn if the sound of his uncle’s truck hadn’t interrupted us.
Even now, so many years later, standing next to him and reliving that moment caused a twinge of desire deep inside me.
As far as I knew, he hadn’t been back since that summer. What was he doing here in Mudville wearing the Rotary’s Santa suit now?
The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced he’d recognized me too. His asking if I ever went by Lizzy seemed proof of that. So why hadn’t Christopher owned up to who he really was? I had no idea, but I decided to play it cool.
If he wanted to pretend, I could pretend.
I pasted on a smile. “Well, I’m happy to have you here, Chris. Let me show you to your sleigh. All right?”
“That’s great. Thanks.” He nodded, acting casual, but I saw it now. There was nothing casual about his stare as his eyes met mine.
There was definitely nothing casual about how I was feeling now that Christopher Nunes was finally back after disappearing from my life completely so many years ago. And this time, I wasn’t a girl anymore.
I was a woman. He was a man. And man oh man, what a man he was, if what little I could see in spite of the suit was any indication.
It was confusing, but I knew one thing with certainty. I intended to take full advantage of his being back before I let him leave here again.
With that in mind, I called to the photographer. “Nicole! We’ve got our Santa.”
Johnson, Cat. Undercover Santa: A second chance holiday romance (Small Town Secrets Book 5). Cat Johnson. Kindle Locations (114-170). Kindle Edition.
An interesting photoshoot, and a visit to the lawyer’s later has Christopher staying longer than he anticipated in Mudville. He was finally going to see if there was more to the attraction he had with Lizzy, now Elizabeth.
A delightful and fun Christmas story. I think I’m going to have to read the others in this Small Town Series.
5 Contented Purrs for Cat!
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Cat Johnson is a top 10 New York Times bestseller and the author of the USA Today bestselling Hot SEALs series. She writes contemporary romance that usually features hot alpha heroes (who often wear combat or cowboy boots) and the sassy heroines brave enough to love them. Known for her unique marketing she has sponsored pro bull riders, owns a collection of camouflage and western wear for book signings, and has used bologna to promote romance novels.