Well, one thing led to another and before I knew it, the story had shifted away from the auction storyline and had grown to more than 25,000 words. This was either a very long short story or a novella.
SANTA’S SECRET, the novella is available as a Kindle eBook on Amazon but if you’d like to see the original opening scene, keep reading.
For a limited time, the eBook is 99cents.
Most of my writing is fiction with Christian themes. This is my first Christmas romance. It won’t be my last. I had so much fun writing it.
If you’d like to know when I release another book, sign up for my mailing list.
SANTA’S SECRET — THE LOST SCENE
Chelsea tightened the scarf around her neck and checked the time on her phone again. Only ten more minutes before she could head back to her nice soft warm bed.
When she had volunteered to take her Grandma Elsa’s place at the annual Wake City Children’s Home Ministries Christmas Showcase, she had no idea the high school gymnasium would be two degrees cooler than a meat locker.
Her grandmother’s BFF, Mrs. Bernetta Hanson, sitting next to Chelsea seemed oblivious to the cold. As did the throngs of people shopping for handmade gifts from the hundred or so booths across the gym. The tinny sounds of Christmas carols mingled with the laughter of children, watching Home Alone on a large projector screen near the concession stand.
Mrs. H removed one of her ear buds and turned a pair of sad baby blues on Chelsea. “Sorry Elsa’s bursitis isn’t any better, Chelsea. But just think, you’ve met so many good-looking guys. You won’t have any trouble finding things to do on Christmas break. If you know what I mean.”
Mrs. Hanson giggled and wiggled her eyebrows. Chelsea offered her a weak smile. The only guy she’d seen so far that she would have considered being seen with was one of her ex-beaus, Ralph Emerson. Ralph had come by to look at the signup sheet, the so-called “Santa” list, and had barely noticed her.
Rumor had it, he was two Sunday dinners away from being engaged to the Miss Perfect Monica Johnston, mayor’s daughter. Ralph’s snub hurt her pride.
Dating some small-town guy, no matter how good looking, was far from Chelsea’s mind. From the way Mrs. Hanson chuckled while she rummaged in her large handbag, the woman was up to something sneaky.
If Chelsea’s employer, Clark Engineering, had not decided to cut back, she would still be in Raleigh gleefully drafting up tiny house plans like one of Santa’s little elves.
“We’ll hire you back after December,” Mr. Clark. And for her early Christmas gift, all he’d given her was a Santa mug.
Chelsea knew he would be true to his word, but it was still hard being laid off right after Thanksgiving. She had just finished bragging to her older sister and parents over the Turkey Day feast how she’d been able to hold down a part-time job while going to graduate school full-time.
Now look at her. Freezing her giblets off in her old high school gymnasium, eating crow.
And helping Grammy.
Usually her grandmother, a widow for the past five years, was self-sufficient. But since finally retiring from teaching the little Kindergarten cherubs at Wake City Elementary, she’d been more needy. And fragile. These bouts of bursitis had been more frequent. Chelsea was more than happy to spend Christmas break with her.
Each booth swarmed with people. Happy, laughing people sharing a sunny Saturday morning together. Judging from her Santa list signups, the charity auction and banquet would be a big success. Chelsea and her family attended every year. She couldn’t remember there being so many volunteers.
Mrs. Hanson pulled a flip phone from her bag. “I’ve … uh … gotta make a call.” She punched a series of keys on the phone as she slipped her purse strap over her shoulder. “Mind the booth, will you, Chelsea honey?”
“Wait … what?”
The older woman’s grin seemed laced with mischief. Mrs. Hanson winked. “Don’t leave the booth.”
Why was she talking so loud?
People from other tables turned Chelsea’s way.
Mrs. Hanson kept chattering as she walked toward the door. “No reason for a head turner like you to have to go to the benefit dance alone.”
Chelsea’s heart sank as she felt the heat coming up from her collar. “I’m here to help my grandmother,” she announced and felt stupid and desperate as soon as the words left her mouth.
But she might as well have been talking to a brick wall. Her elderly companion, like Elvis, had left the building.
“Great,” Chelsea muttered to herself as she rummaged for her gloves in her backpack. “Now, I’m the charity case.”
At a nearby table, a small knot of blue haired ladies was whispering together, eyeing her. Not a good sign, in Chelsea’s estimation. This was not going to end well. One matchmaker was bad. Now, she had the knitting klatch on the case.
Chelsea hugged her cold arms. “Only five more minutes. Why are you doing this, Chels?” She cupped her hands and blew warm air on her icy digits. “Because I love my Grammy. I love my Grammy,” Chelsea muttered to herself as she glanced at the other booths again.
“Talking to yourself, Chels?”
Chelsea turned towards the voice. It was old Ralphie again, but this time, he had his intended with him.
Monica giggled. “You were talking to yourself. You okay? You look cold.”
“Hi, guys. No, I’m fine. Just fine.”
Ralph’s eyes shifted from Chelsea to Monica. “Will you be coming to the book club meeting tonight?”
Chelsea frowned. “You’re going?” she asked Ralph point blank. “I thought it was women only.”
Ralph drew Monica close to his side. “No, no. I won’t be there. Not a chance but little Miss Perfect here will be.”
The couple made goo goo eyes at each other.
Take me now, Lord.
Pasting on her fake smile, Chelsea said, “Oh. Gotcha. Well, I suppose I’ll be there since it’s right across from my grandmother’s house. Grammy did mention it.”
“Wonderful,” Monica said. “I hear we’re reading a Christmas romance. I love romance novels, don’t you Ralphie honey?”
Ralph nodded absently, his attention drawn to a group of men at the concession stand several feet away. “Romance makes me happy, Sugar. You know that. Is that who I think it is?” he asked no one in particular. “I’ll go get you some popcorn, Sweetie Pie. Sign me up on Chelsea’s list. Okay.”
Monica looked confused. “Popcorn?”
Her Ralphie was gone before she had a chance to object.
Monica shrugged it off and whipped an expensive looking pen from her expensive looking hobo handbag. “Where do I sign up?”
“Technically,” Chelsea started, “The men are supposed to sign themselves up. They –”
“Oh, Chelsea, you were always so technical. So ‘by the book’. Ease up. It’s just a charity banquet thing. You’re not building a house here.” Monica giggled a little and finished filling in the short volunteer form by signing Ralph’s signature. “It’s no big deal. He’s just going to end up volunteering down at City Hall with daddy like every year.”
Chelsea pressed her lips together to keep from blurting something mean. Monica hadn’t changed a bit in the years since they graduated.
“So, how’s that house building job of yours in Raleigh going?”
“I don’t build houses, Monica.”
“Oh.” Monica made a rude noise. “Whatever it is. It’s so unladylike.”
You wanna see unladylike?
Chelsea took a step closer to the table between them, her fingers curving into fists.
Ralph’s return cut Chelsea off. “Monica, look who I found at the concession stand.” Ralph patted a taller man on the shoulder.
The man wore a black turtleneck over black jeans and looked like he had just stepped out of one of those Tag Heuer watch ads. The look in his deep-set brown eyes gave Chelsea pause.
Monica squealed when she laid eyes on the man. “Your name is Marc, right?”
“Yes.” Marc nodded and flashed and smile that looked on the stiff side to Chelsea. “You have a great memory.” He shook Monica’s hand.
Marc’s deep voice tickled Chelsea ear. It reminded her of dark chocolate. Like the rich color of his skin. Suddenly, she couldn’t pull her eyes away.
“Goodness,” Monica exclaimed as she swept a well-manicured hand toward Chelsea. “Where are my manners? Chelsea Parker meet Marc Waterman. Marc’s visiting Wake City for the holidays. And Chelsea is one of our old high school friends.”
Monica put too much emphasis on the word old.
Letting cool remark slide, Chelsea offered her hand to Marc. “Nice to meet you. I live in Raleigh now actually.”
He returned her firm handshake and gave her a warm smile. “So do I. Well, at least for a few more months.”
Raise the red flags, Chels. Drifter? Stalker? Serial Killer? Day Trader? All of the above?
Images of him hunched over a shallow grave while holding a shovel assaulted her overactive mind.
“Chelsea, honey,” Mrs. Hanson’s voice sang out above the din in the gym. Chelsea returned her wave. “What are you waiting for, dear? Either sign him up or get his number. Or both.”
Marc chuckled and eyed Chelsea. “Sign me up? Who is that woman and what does she mean?”
Monica grumbled something under her breath and pulled Ralph’s arm around her.
Ralph cleared his throat. “Listen, Marc. Dude, we need to jet. It was great bumping into you.” The two men slapped hands. “Call me. We’ll do lunch or somethin’.”
Donning the plastic smile again, Marc said goodbye to Ralph and Monica before facing Chelsea again.
“So, Ms. Parker …” Marc spread his hands out like an umpire calling a runner safe. “Should I do what the lady said?” He read the sign stretched across the front of her table. “It says here you’re signing people up for a service auction?”
“Correct,” Chelsea offered. “People bid on your service. The highest bidder gets you for up to 20 hours of free community service. Would you like to sign up?”
She tapped one of the clipboards on the table.
Marc narrowed his eyes and turned his head sideways. “Hmmm.”
“You don’t have to but it’s for a good cause.” She tapped the clipboard again. “The Children’s Hospital.”
“I’m not sure if I have the time to ….”
“You have until the end of January to work those hours. Do you like kids?”
The way he said that made Chelsea want to smile. “I totally understand. In small doses, there’s great. At any rate, the person with the most bids gets to play Santa at the hospital. Dress up in a red suit and give away gifts to kids on Christmas Eve. I’ll be honest … it can get a bit rowdy with all those little ankle biters wanting to sit in your lap. But they’re cute.”
Marc’s smile brightened. “How can I resist that? Where do I sign up?”
Chelsea passed him the clipboard and a pen.
He paused and pointed to the form. “It says here that you need a photo of me?”
Chelsea’s response was cut short by a hug from behind. It was Mrs. H, all smiles. “It’s sort of like beauty contest, sir,” Mrs. Hanson said.
“A beauty contest?” he asked. “With men? Interesting.” Marc went back to filling out the form.
Either he’s a nut or a psycho. Note to self: Thorough background check needed.
Mrs. Hanson elbowed Chelsea in the side. The older woman’s eyes darted sideways toward Marc. “Mrs. Hanson, this is Marc Waterman. He’s visiting from Raleigh.”
Marc nodded and shook Mrs. H’s hand. She gushed like the Southern belle she was.
He turned on a thousand-watt smile. “Please call me Marc.”
“Call me Mrs. H. All the kids call me that. Not that you’re a kid per se. What are you 29? 30?”
Ducking her head, Chelsea rolled her eyes. Mrs. H was on a fishing mission. Thankfully, Chelsea’s cell phone vibrated in her pocket.
Thank you, Jesus.
Answering it, she stepped away from the cozy conversation at the table. “Hey, Freddie,” she said, greeting her best friend. “What’s up?”
“Found a date yet?”
Chelsea frowned. “You too. I’m not here at this table, freezing my buns off, because I’m hard up for a date.”
“Yeah. Yeah. You’re doing it because you love your grandmother.”
“And the children.”
“Enough, Frederica Martinez.”
“Hey. You don’t have to get all formal on me. I’ll stop teasing. Sheesh.” Freddie cleared her throat. “Listen, I met this guy today who would be perfect for you.”
“Don’t hang up, Chels. He’s my brother’s workout buddy. He’s not your typical gym rat though. Not a meat head at all. I know how you like smart men. Everybody can’t be like Bobby. But then Bobby did leave you on Christmas Eve, standing at the — ”
She let another moan out. “Frederica!”
“Okay. I know. Don’t mention that Cretan again. Seriously, you can’t go to the holiday benefit dinner alone again. Or with your daddy. Or with …”
“I get it,” Chelsea cut her friend off. She let her gaze wander to where Marc stood chatting it up with Mrs. H. like there were old friends. “I won’t come alone. What if I tell you I’ve got it all worked out.”
Chelsea glanced back at Marc and Mrs. H. By the look of things, he had finished the forms.
The optimism in Freddie’s voice was palpable. “Seriously, Chels. You got a date.”
“Yep. I got his number and everything.”
“Naw. Stop toying with me, sister.”
“I’m telling you the truth. So, stop worrying about me. Everything will work out just fine. You just wait and see.”
Smiling, she hung up. This Christmas would be different.