Excerpt: "Dear Santa..."

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From Chapter Fifteen

Holly was trying to decide between a fluffy panda bear and a pink and purple polka dot elephant when the door at the back of the room, which she guessed opened onto the actual workshop opened, and a tall, lanky silver-haired man wearing cowboy boots, jeans, and a western snap front shirt entered the gift shop.

“Well,” he said, on a western drawl that possessed just a bit of twang. “If it isn’t Holly Berry, come to pay us a visit.”

She’d begun, just a bit, to buy into the tourism aspect of the town, but if this was the guy they were putting forth as Santa Claus, someone obviously needed to call Central Casting.

“And you must be Sam Frasier?”

“That’s me.” He held out a huge hand that was nicked and scarred from a lifetime of carving wood. “Welcome to Santa’s Workshop.” He glanced down at the two stuffed animals she was holding in her hand. “Go with the elephant.”

“I guess you know that because, deep down, you’re Santa Claus?”

“That and the fact that the colors match her bedroom,” he said.

“And you’d know that how?”

“Because she’s one of those little girls who wakes up at the crack of dawn and can’t wait for the family to come over before checking out her Christmas presents. So, she and Gabe worked out a deal. Instead of hanging her stocking on the family room fireplace mantle, they put it in her room. That way, she’s allowed to look through it on Christmas morning while she waits for the adults to get things ready.”

He winked. “Last year I put in a coloring book and a set of crayons that kept her busy for a while. This year I’m thinking about a Game Boy. They come in pink now, you know. And there’s a Powerpuff game I think would keep her occupied until Gabe gets up.”

“Whatever happened to handmade wooden toys and baby dolls?” Holly waved a hand toward all the shelves.

He slipped his hands into the front of his jeans. Rocked back on the heels of his Tony Lamas. “Do you have any idea how many children there are in the world?”

“No.” She folded her arms. “Why don’t you tell me?”

“A bunch. So, sometimes the only choice is to outsource.”

“Of course.” She gave him a long look. “You know, you don’t exactly look like a jolly old elf.” In fact, now that she thought of it, he was a dead ringer for Paul Newman. The older, sexy one, not Hud.

“Yeah, I know.” He rubbed a shaven jaw that was nearly as broad as Gabe’s. “My wife put me on a low carb diet a few months ago. Said that with obesity becoming such a serious problem among not just adults, but children, it’s important for Santa to set a good example.”

“You wife sounds very wise.”

“She’s smart as a whip,” he agreed. “Has kept me on my toes all the years we’ve been together. And while I occasionally miss potato chips, and still have cravings for Mrs. Fraiser’s apple cobbler, I’ve gotten used to it. For the children’s sake.”

It was a good act. But that’s all it was. An act. And for some reason, she couldn’t quite understand herself, although she felt a little ridiculous arguing the subject, especially in front of Gabe’s sister, who was watching with undisguised interest, Holly couldn’t just let his claim go unchallenged.

“You’re not really Santa Claus.”

Blue eyes narrowed even as the friendly smile stayed on his lips. “You’re sure of that, are you?”

“Of course.” Oddly, since it didn’t make any difference in the grand scheme of things, she was beginning to get frustrated. “I’m an adult. I know Santa doesn’t exist. That he’s merely a lovely myth told to children. Partly to get them to behave.”

Fraiser rubbed his chin. “That sounds vaguely familiar. Maybe you’ve watched ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ recently?”

“I don’t watch Christmas movies.”

“Actually, I know that,” he said. “Which is a shame. But I was merely pointing out a similarity.”

“Look,” Holly said on an exasperated breath. “I think it’s lovely that your family has run this toy shop for so many generations and that the things you make here bring children pleasure. I also think it’s great the way the town reinvented itself to bring in tourism.”

“Is that what you think we did?”

“Winnie Jenson, the clerk at the checkout at the market told me that the post office does a huge business postmarking Christmas cards with the Santa’s Village, America’s Most Christmassy town postmark.”

“That’s true,” Rachel entered into the conversation. “But it doesn’t bring in revenue. It also causes more work, which is why –”

“So many people in town volunteer to help out,” Holly interjected. “Mrs. Jenson already told me that. And, as I said, I think it’s a great marketing idea. But I don’t play games, Mr. Fraiser. I’m a realist.”

“Yet, you tell tales for a living,” Sam Fraiser pointed out.

Damn. He had her there.

He smiled. “Take the elephant,” he suggested gently, effectively declaring the topic closed. “She’ll love it. Meanwhile, it’s been lovely finally meeting you in person, Holly Berry.”

It wasn’t until the elephant had been rung up and wrapped in paper with a smiling, red-cheeked bearded Santa printed on it, and Holly was a block away that his words sunk in.

“What did he mean, finally?”

The question puzzled her until she’d turned onto Dasher Drive, headed back to the inn. From what Gabe’s sister had said, the gossip line worked at lightning speed in Santa’s Village. Obviously Fraiser had heard about her arrival in town.

That settled to her own satisfaction, Holly began thinking ahead toward the evening. . .