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Dirty Santa: A Holiday MC Romance by Daphne Loveling (1)

1

Bailey

I’ve been a bad, bad girl.

Well, maybe not in reality. But if Santa can read my mind, I know I’m on his naughty list for the thoughts I’m having right this moment.

The object of my dirty fantasy is right outside my kitchen window. I’m stealing glances at him now — my handsome, tattooed next-door neighbor — as I finish up washing the lunch dishes. I don’t know his name, and I’ve never spoken to him in my life. But ever since the first time I saw him a few weeks ago, I’ve been catching glimpses of him whenever I can.

Today, he’s outside in his driveway, and looks to be doing some sort of maintenance to his car. The hood is up, and a few different tools are scattered on the ground around him. Inside the open door of his garage, a large, imposing Harley motorcycle occupies the second stall. The object of my inappropriate lust is tall — easily over six feet — and dark. Ink lines both of his arms, which are exposed today by the white wife-beater style tank that he’s wearing, even though it’s late December. The shirt is tight across his chest and back, giving me a very unsettling view of his muscles as they flex.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been divorced for six months, and because even before the initial separation, my sexual landscape was a dry and barren desert. But there’s something about my neighbor — something so raw, so frankly, unabashedly male about him — that whenever I happen to see him, my body seems to kick into some sort of weird sexual overdrive. Feelings I haven’t had in years — hell maybe ever — start to invade my brain, which in turn sends some very distracting signals to my lady parts. Signals that have me imagining all sort of scenarios from steamy romance novels, in which I’m the princess and he’s the handsome horse groomer, or I’m the maiden and he’s the —

“Mom!”

My eight year-old daughter Addison’s voice snaps me out of the fantasy that’s just starting to form in my head. Guiltily, I look around to see her sitting at the kitchen table, a pile of multi-colored construction paper in front of her.

“What, sweetie?” I say, too brightly.

Thank God she’s too young to know that the flush in my cheeks isn’t because of the steam from the dishwater.

“This is ugly,” she complains as she glowers at the beginnings of the paper-chain garland she’s just started to make. “Our tree is going to look ugly. I hate this!”

“Addi, it’s going to look fine. Better than fine,” I immediately add. Normally cheerful, Addi has been in a terrible mood all day. I’ve been going back and forth between irritation with her and sympathy. This is the first Christmas we’ll be spending without her father, and also without all the lavish presents and holiday trappings that her father’s money normally surrounded her with at this time of year. I’m trying hard to make the best of it for her, but I know she misses her old life.

“Our tree will be unique this year,” I soothe. “No one else’s will look like ours. That’s better than having a boring, impersonal tree filled with ornaments that don’t even mean anything, isn’t it?”

Even as I say the words, I know they’ll ring hollow with my daughter. And I admit, the trees we used to have back at our old house in Pennsylvania were something to behold. They would fill up the space in our large living room, right up to the cathedral ceiling. They were so large that Garrett had to have them ordered and delivered to us, and specially decorated by a service, because I was too terrified to get on a ladder that high.

In comparison, the small, artificial tree I purchased on sale from our local big box discount store doesn’t even come close to measuring up. I probably should have tried to get a real one this year, to make the transition a little easier. But my car is so small, and I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to tie a tree to the top of it well enough that it wouldn’t fall off on the way back home.

Plus, the tree I bought was cheaper, and of course reusable. And money is tight these days. I barely have the cash for Christmas presents for Addi as it is.

I know she blames me for how different Christmas is this year. And how small the tree is. And that we have to make our ornaments instead of having a big, department store-worthy tree. Of course she does. All she sees is that since Mommy and Daddy got a divorce, everything about her old life is gone. She doesn’t know about her father’s serial cheating, and that after the third woman in as many years, I finally had enough. She doesn’t know that Garrett hasn’t bothered to pay his court-ordered child support for the last four months. And I wouldn’t dream of telling her. My daughter deserves to have a father she loves and believes in. Even if that means I sometimes have to come up with creative explanations for his behaviors, or for why a promised phone call or Skype session doesn’t materialize. Or scrambling to buy her some last-minute gifts “from Daddy” because her father conveniently forgot to send anything.

“This is the worst Christmas Eve ever,” Addi murmurs gloomily. “Is Daddy at least coming tomorrow to open presents with us?”

“Oh, Ads, honey, I’m sorry, but no.” I know she knows the answer to this already. We’ve been over this terrain at least four times by now. Maybe she thinks if she keeps asking for him, I’ll tell him how much she wants it and he’ll come. But I doubt Daddy’s new girlfriend would like that very much. Spending Christmas in Ironwood, Ohio probably wouldn’t quite compare to Christmas in Cabo, where they currently are.

I can just about picture them together: the girlfriend, whose name is Briana, is probably young and gorgeous, her stomach flat and unmarred by childbirth. I imagine her as a blonde, because that seems to be Garrett’s preferred type — if you can judge from the women he’s cheated on me with, that is. Self-consciously, I reach up to my own dark-brown hair, pulled up into a messy bun out of my face. I need a haircut badly, but there’s not really been money for that lately, either.

In my mind’s eye, I see Garrett and this Briana person lounging on the trampoline of a catamaran. Garrett is showing off his sailing skills to her. She’s decked out in a cherry-red bikini that shows off her golden tan, laughing uproariously at one of his jokes. Garrett is wearing the swim trunks I bought him two years ago, his body trim from regular trips to the gym to keep the beginnings of “dad bod” away. I know Garrett looks good for his age — and let’s face it, his money would certainly make up for any number of imperfections in the eyes of a lot of women. Especially the kinds of women he chooses.

Me on the other hand…

I catch my reflection in the plate I’m washing, and suppress a sigh. I’m certainly not old, but some days I feel absolutely ancient. I almost have to laugh at the irony of my situation. Garrett’s the one who cheated, but he’s come out of our marriage much less the worse for wear. He’s a rich bachelor again, without a care in the world. I’m a single mom, pinching pennies and lusting in private after my neighbor.

At least I have Addi, though. And for that reason alone, I wouldn’t trade places with my ex-husband for anything in the world.

I finish drying the last plate and unplug the sink to let the water run out. “Guess what?” I say, putting on my biggest holiday smile. “It’s time to make some Christmas cookies! Want to help me?”

The ritual is something I’ve done every year since Addi was a baby. She loves it. At least, she used to. But this year, instead of hopping up and joining me at the kitchen island, she just sighs dejectedly and lays down her scissors.

“No thanks,” she mumbles. “I’m gonna go in my room.”

My heart sinks as I watch her go. I consider calling her back, but I know that forcing her to help me won’t do anything but worsen her mood. I decide to let her be for now. Maybe when she smells the cookies baking, she’ll perk up.