Brandon Brown is the unlikeliest Santa ever to don a red
His abs are more cheese grater than bowl full of jelly,
deploying to Syria is the closest he's come to the North
Pole. But family drama sends the jaded Marine home for the
holidays, and lands him an unexpected gig as a part-time
Jade King is hustling to get Jingle Bell Reindeer Ranch
the ground, and she's not thrilled her sister hired a
with sex-appeal. The last thing Jade wants is a beefcake
circus, and guys like Brandon bring sleigh-loads of
But Studmuffin Santa proves more popular than anyone
dreamed, drawing hordes of happy kids, lusty moms, and a
mystery foe hell-bent on wrecking it all.
The threat has Brandon playing protector for the reindeer
and their sexy keeper, which is risky for a guy who's
off happy endings and the whole Christmas mess. But as
and Brandon bond over Santa suit malfunctions and risqué
Christmas cookies, they learn they have more in common
a craving for gingerbread. Can they find a way to mesh
wish lists, or will ghosts of Christmas past bring things
crashing down like a fat man in a cast iron sleigh?
Jade stares at me for a moment with those Crater Lake eyes
unblinking. Two shaggy-looking reindeer stand behind her
with antlers the size of coat racks, looking like thugs
braced to beat the shit out of me if Jade gives the order.
But she seems to decide something then, and spins on her
heel to walk away. I do not check out her ass because I am
a gentleman. Also because the tail of her plaid flannel
shirt comes down past her hips.
But mostly because I’m a gentleman.
“Come on,” she calls over her shoulder. “You can walk with
me while I check the fence line.”
I’m not sure what we’re checking it for or why I’m already
taking orders from her when I’m not positive I have this
job. But I’ve got nothing better to do on this cold
November afternoon, so I fall in beside her and try not to
step on any piles of little black berries I’m ninety
percent sure aren’t berries.
Jade’s walking fast for a girl almost a foot shorter than
me, but she’s not breathing hard at all. She’s also not
looking at me.
“So we’re the third largest domesticated reindeer herd in
the continental U.S.” She stops and adjusts something on a
surprisingly tall fence, then continues on like the
world’s least-friendly tour guide. “A lot of them came
from abusive homes or neglect situations, so I’ve been
doing rehab with them and getting them ready to interact
with the public.”
I want to ask what reindeer rehab entails, but I suspect
she’d think I’m making fun of her. “They look good to me,”
I offer. “Not that I know what healthy reindeer look like,
but I assume they are. Healthy, that is.”
I’m spewing word salad like it’s on the menu, which isn’t
like me at all. I’m usually pretty polished around women,
so I don’t know why this one’s making me blather like a
Jade spares me a glance and continues walking. “They are
healthy. We had four new calves born last spring, which
gives us fourteen steers, sixteen cows, and one bull who’s
not going to be a bull much longer.”
I’m almost afraid to ask. “What do you mean?”
She gives me a pointed look. “Harold—stage name Donner—is
getting castrated next week.”
Jade shrugs and keeps walking. “Bulls are impossible to
deal with during rut. Nonstop grunting from August to
December, and they’re mean as hell. Dangerous, too.”
“I’ve known guys like that.”
Jade stops walking again and turns to face me. She narrows
her eyes just a little, and I fight the urge to take a
step back. “They die young,” she says. “Reindeer bulls do.
You get three or four breeding seasons out of them and
they might live a year or so after that, but not much.
Unless you castrate them, they’re pretty much goners.”
I’m not sure we’re still talking about reindeer, but I
don’t love the way she just glanced at my crotch. Or maybe
I’m imagining things. “So you’re cutting off his balls to
save his life.”
“Pretty much.” Jade starts walking again.
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