Hello – I’m Kris Pearson, a New Zealander who writes mostly quite sexy novels. However, when I was invited to join the Authors of Main Street in February, I thought that an excerpt from my new Christmas novella would be a good choice because it’s perfectly sweet and clean – even though my two lead characters are forced to share a mattress on the floor!
This comes about because Jeff’s wife moves all his money to a secret bank account when she suspects him of infidelity, and then she manages to get him arrested for the night and banned from their home until things get sorted. What’s a man to do under those circumstances? (I confess I stole this set-up from a couple of silly family members. It’s totally fiction after that though, and becomes almost an extra epilogue for my novel THE WRONG SISTER.)
SANTA CLAWS is set in Wellington, New Zealand and our ‘Main Street’ is called Lambton Quay. From that you might expect ships, but it’s a long time since any ships tied up here. Because my city is backed with steep hills there’s been a lot of land reclaimed from our harbor. Lambton Quay is now two or three city blocks inland. You can see photos on my website – http://www.krispearson.com
Two days ago
“One night in the guest room, bro – it’s all I can do,” Christian Hartley said the next day. “Fiona and I have the olds – plus Becky’s tribe – staying for Christmas, and every bed will be bursting.”
“Better than nothing,” Jeff said, thanking God for the small respite his wealthy brother had given him. The panic receded slightly, and he was about to conclude the call when Christian added, “How bad are things, really?”
“Totally down the drain. Mon’s stitched me up. Got a restraining order against me for a while and hidden all the money.”
“Jeez… Look, I know you’re too damn proud to accept charity, but say the word if you want a loan. In fact let me transfer some money now. What’s your account number?”
Jeff breathed out quietly. “Thanks, but no thanks. Not yet anyway. I’ll get by.”
There was a short silence. “You’ve got time off over Christmas?”
“Yeah – a fortnight.”
“Well, this is a crappy offer, but it’d be a roof over your head. Our rental in Kilbirnie got trashed. I ordered a dumpster for today, and was going to get cleaners onto it sometime in the New Year.”
“Happy to help.”
“You might not be when you see it, but if you don’t mind taking on the job, and doing a bit of repainting, I’ll swap your labour for a few weeks’ rent to preserve your pride. It’ll cost me plenty to get anyone else in, and leave me free to spend more time with Fiona and Nicky over the holiday. I was hoping for a few days out at the river.”
Jeff could have sworn his panicked heart-rate was slowing. “You’re a life-saver, Chris. Thanks.”
Christian made a noise that was half laugh, half sigh. “You might not think so once you’ve seen it. It stinks to high heaven, and there are mice and God knows what else.”
“If it’s somewhere to hole up for a while, it’ll do me fine.”
“It comes complete with a spade, a lot of Mr Muscle, air freshener, and a big pack of garbage bags I left in the kitchen. There’s a key under the brick beside the shed.”
Jeff heard a childish squeal in the background, and Chris muttered, “Okay Nic, coming now.” Then he added, “Knock yourself out, bro, and I’ll see you here for the Christmas barbecue.”
“A spade?” Jeff asked as the word finally registered in his over-stressed brain.
“You’ll need it, buddy. I’m not joking about it being bad.”
On the last day of the working year, Evie wore her blonde hair low to hide her face, and had a lot of peachy makeup smeared around one eye. Jeff couldn’t help but notice. They sometimes sat together in the staffroom, and today was one of those days.
“He’s hit you again?” he asked in a low voice.
She frowned and shook her head. Her hair fell even further forward and she fiddled with her ever-present silver charm bracelet. “Only a bit.”
“Why don’t you get out?” He slid his gaze sideways to her, trying not to draw any attention in their direction.
“Nowhere to go. No money to go with. I gave him my Christmas bonus to stop him bashing me more.”
Jeff closed his eyes and clenched his fists. How he’d enjoy giving the bastard some of his own medicine. “There’s another thirty minutes of lunch break,” he muttered. “If I took you home now, could you grab your clothes and bedding? Store everything in the car for the rest of the day. It’s a long story, but I’ve left Monica.”
He heard her indrawn breath. “I think I’ll go for a walk,” she said loudly to no-one in particular. Jeff drained the last of his coffee and followed her a minute later.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” he said as he drove. “The house is bad. It’s been trashed. I spent last evening throwing stuff in a dumpster, and then slept at my brother’s. There’s a long way to go yet.”
“I’d be an extra pair of hands.” She glanced across at him, jaw tight.
“There are no beds.”
“I’ve slept on the floor before.”
“Yeah, me too, but it was a long time ago, and it’s no fun.” Then he told her about Monica, and the money, and the mess that was now his life.
“So you’re not planning a family Christmas?” she asked with a lift of her eyebrows and a sudden flinch.
His heart lurched. “With my brother’s family, but not with her. That eye’s bad, isn’t it. Do you need a doctor?”
Evie shook her head. “It’s not cut.”
Jeff pressed his lips together. “How have you stood it so long? For the last year at least, from what I can see.”
“He wasn’t so bad to start with.” She hitched a shoulder up and avoided his gaze.
“I can give you one good thing to look forward to, anyway. The barbecue at my brother’s house on Christmas Day. It’ll give us a rest after all the cleaning up. And a decent feed.”
She pushed her hair back over her shoulders and looked at him doubtfully. “I’d be intruding.”
“No you won’t. There’ll be quite a crowd, and you’re very welcome. He’s younger than me. Dad married twice. I’m the older black sheep son.”
Evie snorted at that. “Like I’m the older black sheep daughter. The one who lived a gypsy life and never married or had kids.”
Jeff laughed without humour. He slowed, parking two houses down from where she lived – his usual practice on the times he’d dropped her home.
“I don’t know if this will work,” she said, peering ahead. “If anyone’s there I’ll just say I need my migraine pills and then I’ll get out in a hurry. If you see me put a bag outside the door, come and grab it, and I’ll go in again for more.”
One suitcase, one sports bag, and a big armload of bedding later, Evie squealed at him to hurry as a glowering, leather-clad man with a bull terrier on a leash ambled round the corner. The man froze for a moment as he assessed the situation, then broke into a sprint and sent them a far from friendly signal with his free hand as they roared away.
“He was out walking Devil,” she said, with a giggle that did Jeff’s spirits good. Then she floored him by adding, “We could see if the church shop has a bed?”
One bed, he noticed. For her, or for them both? He didn’t dare hope, although a prickle of anticipation threaded itself the length of his body. He shook his head, still wired from the speedy escape. Maybe the adrenaline rush was making him think crazy thoughts? “Even if they do, they won’t be able to deliver so close to Christmas.”
She sent him a small grin. “I know some of those ladies quite well.”