A sweet romance for the holidays
Shannon's Christmas Wish List
1. A gorgeous
billionaire to buy her store…enter Rory
2. The magic of
Christmas…Rory and his little girl need to know that it
3. Willpower…because kissing
Rory under the mistletoe would be a Very Bad
Shannon Raleigh can't believe that both
Rory Wallace and his little girl dislike Christmas so much
and she's determined to make her favorite season as magical
as possible! But working with handsome Rory every day proves
challenging, because Shannon finds herself longing for
Christmas kisses with the man she can never have….
Shannon Raleigh turned to get a look at herself in the
full-length mirror in the bathroom of her executive office
suite and gaped in horror. The tall black boots and short
red velvet dress she wore exposed most of her legs and the
white fur-trimmed U at the bodice revealed a
sizable strip of cleavage.
"I can't go into a roomful of kids dressed like
Even from behind the closed door, she could hear her
assistant Wendy sigh heavily. "Why don't you let me
be the judge of that?"
"Because I know you'll say I look fine, when I
don't. I can't usher kids to Santa's lap in a
skirt so short I can't bend over."
"So don't bend over." Another sigh. "Look,
Shannon, it doesn't matter that you're eight inches
taller than Carlie. There's nobody else who's even
remotely thin enough to fit into that suit. Carlie's car
is stuck in a snowdrift. If you don't play Santa's
helper there'll be no one to"
The ring of the phone stopped Wendy midsentence. The next
thing Shannon heard was Wendy's happy voice saying,
"Raleigh's Department Store. Shannon Raleigh's
assistant, Wendy, speaking."
In the lull while Wendy obviously listened to the caller,
Shannon cast another critical eye over her reflection. The
little red dress was kind of cute. The color complemented
her long black hair and made her blue eyes seem bluer. If
she were wearing it anywhere else, she'd actually think
she looked pretty.
A long-forgotten ache filled her. It was the first time in a
year she felt pretty, sexy. But sexy wasn't
exactly the way a grown woman should dress in a room filled
with babies, toddlers and elementary school kids.
The ache was quickly replaced by fearwhich was the
real reason she didn't want to play Santa's helper.
How could she spend four hours in a room full of adorable
children? She wanted a baby so badly it hurt, but she
couldn't have kids. And seeing all those sweet faces,
hearing their cute little lists, would crush her.
"I'm not coming out."
"Fine. That was Tammy in the shoe department. No
one's come into the store for the past hour and she
could tell the storm was getting worse, so she checked the
forecast on the internet. They have no clue how much snow
we're going to get, but they aren't shy about
suggesting we might get another foot."
Shannon raced out of her bathroom and pulled back the
curtain behind her huge mahogany desk. Thick fluffy
snowflakes cascaded from the sky, coating the tinsel and
silver bells on the streetlamps of Main Street, Green Hill,
Pennsylvania. It blanketed the Christmas lights that
outlined shop doorways, and sat on the roof of the
park's gazebo like a tall white hat.
Her gaze on the little red Santa's helper outfit, Wendy
also said, "Holy cow."
"Don't make fun. We have a serious problem
here." Or maybe a way out. She turned from the window.
"I think it's time to admit that the storm is
keeping shoppers away."
"And most of the staff is scared silly about driving
home. The longer we stay, the worse the roads get."
"okay, announce that the store is closing in fifteen and
tell the employees they can go home. I'll call the radio
stations so they can add us to their list of closings. Then
I'll lock up."
As the announcement went out over the loudspeaker, Shannon
called all the local radio stations and advised them to let
listeners know Raleigh's would be closed for the night.
Just as she hung up the phone from the final call, Wendy
peeked in. "Okay. Fifteen minutes are up. Store's
"Great. Thanks. Be careful going home." "My
boyfriend's coming to pick me up in his truck. I'll
Shannon smiled. "See you tomorrow." "If we can
"We better hope we can make it. The weekend before
Christmas is our busiest time."
Wendy shrugged. "If shoppers don't get here
tomorrow, they'll just come on Sunday or Monday or
Tuesday or whatever. Nobody's going to go without gifts
this Christmas. I'd say your profits are safe."
Shannon laughed. Wendy waved and headed off. With a few
clicks on her keyboard, she activated the building locks and
the alarm system. Reaching for her coat, she peered down at
her little Santa's helper outfit. She should change, but
knowing the roads were getting worse with every passing
minute, she simply yanked her long white wool coat from the
closet and ran out.
At the end of the hall, she pushed on the swinging door that
led from executive row to housewares. Striding to the
elevator, she passed shelves and tables bulging with
merchandise, all under loops of tinsel and oversized
ornaments hanging from the low ceiling. On the first floor,
she hurried past the candy department, to the back door and
the employee parking lot. Putting her SUV into four-wheel
drive, she edged onto the street and slowly wound along the
twisty road that took her out into the country, to her home
five miles outside the small city.
As she stepped out into the eighteen inches of snow in her
driveway, a sense of disconnect shivered through her. Though
it had been a year, it felt like only yesterday that she had
been married and living in sunny, happy Charleston, South
Carolina, where people didn't often see snow, let alone
need winter coats and boots. Then she'd been diagnosed
with stage-four endometriosis and forced to have a
hysterectomy, her husband had unceremoniously divorced her
and she'd returned home to the comforting arms of her
But just when she'd gotten adjusted to being back in
town and working at the store, her parents had retired and
moved to Florida. Worse, they now wanted her to sell the
store to fund their retirement.
Once again, she was aloneand soon she'd be unemployed.
She trudged up the back steps to the kitchen door, scolding
herself for being so negative. She knew what was wrong. The
near miss with playing Santa's helper had rattled her.
Four hours of ushering kids to Santa's throne and
listening to their sweet voices as they gave their Christmas
lists to the jolly old elf would have been her
undoinga bittersweet reminder to her that she'd
never bring a child into this world.
Inside the cold yellow kitchen, she'd just barely
unwound the scarf from her neck when the doorbell rang.
Confused, she walked up the hall, dodging the boxes of
Christmas decorations she'd brought from the attic the
night before. She flipped on the porch light and yanked open
A snow-covered state policeman took off his hat.
"Evening, ma'am. I'm Trooper Potter."
She blinked. What the devil would the police want with her?
Then Trooper Potter shifted a bit to his left and she saw
Rory Wallace. All six foot one, no more than one hundred and
eighty-five gorgeous pounds of him. His black hair and
topcoat were sprinkled with snow. His dark eyes were wary,
"Good evening, Shannon."
The policeman angled his thumb behind him. "I see you
know Mr. Wallace."
"Yes. I do." How could she forget a dark-haired,
dark-eyed sex god? While he had dated her roommate, Natalie,
their first year at university, Shannon had had a secret
crush on him. With his high cheekbones, well-defined chin,
broad shoulders and flat abs, he had the kind of looks that
made women swoon and Shannon wasn't blind.
"Mr. Wallace was stranded on the interstate. The hotels
filled up quickly with travelers and now his only options
are a cot in the high school gym or finding someone to take
him in. He tells me that he's in Pennsylvania because he
has business with you on Monday and"
"I came a few days early to get a look at the store on
my own," Rory interrupted, stepping forward. "But I
ran into the storm. I was hoping you wouldn't mind me
staying the night. Normally, I wouldn't ask such a big
favor, but as you can see I'm desperate."
Mind? She almost laughed. She would bet that fifty percent
of the women he met fantasized about being stuck in a storm
She opened the door a little wider. Not only would having
him stay the night get her out of the doldrums about her
life, but this also had all the makings of a perfect
fantasy. Cold night. Gorgeous guy. And wine. She had tons of
"Daddy, I'm cold."
Her fantasy came to an abrupt halt as she glanced down and
saw a little girl standing beside Rory. She wore a pink ski
jacket and carried a matching pink backpack. Little strands
of yellow hair peeked from beneath her hood.
Her heart pinched with fear. Her breathing stuttered out.
Did Fate think it was funny to let her dodge playing
Santa's helper only to drop an adorable child on her
"You can see why I don't want to stay in a shelter."
Fear and yearning collided as she glanced down at the sweet
little girl with big blue eyes and fine yellow hair. As much
as she knew spending time with this child would intensify
her longing for her own children, she couldn't leave
Rory and his daughter out in the cold or ship them to a
crowded gym with hundreds of other noisy travelers and a
She also couldn't be a Scrooge. Her problem wasn't
their problem. She would be a good hostess.
She stepped back so they could enter. "Yes. Yes, of
Carrying a duffel bag and briefcase as he squeezed into the
foyer, Rory brushed against her, setting off a firestorm of
sensations inside her. She ignored them. Not just because a
man with a child was most likely married, but because she
probably wouldn't have made a pass at him even if
he'd been alone. In the year since her divorce, she
hadn't been able to relate to men as anything other than
employees. After her husband's anger over her inability
to have kids and the way he'd dropped her like a hot
potatono consideration for their five-year marriage,
no consideration for her devastationthe fear of
another man rejecting her paralyzed her.
Plus, come Monday, they'd be doing business. His family
owned a holding company for various types of stores and
Raleigh's would probably fit their collection.
That's why she'd thought of Natalie's old
boyfriend when her parents had decided they wanted to sell
the store. It could be a quick, painless sale. She
didn't want to jeopardize that.
But, wow. It had been fun to fantasize about being stranded
with him, fun for the ten seconds before reality intruded,
reminding her she wasn't normal.
As Rory dropped his duffel bag, she said, "It's a
"Worst in ten years," the trooper agreed, staying
behind on the porch. "If you're all settled, I need
to get back on the road."
"We're fine," Shannon said, as she began to
close the door. As an afterthought, she added, "Thank
"Yes, thank you," Rory Wallace called out, too.
Already on his way down her front steps, the trooper waved
goodbye and trudged through the thick snow on the sidewalk
to his car.
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