“Oh, no. Not now.”
“What—?” Max began to ask, but was cut off when the elevator jerked to a stop. Max reached out instinctively to steady Ryan when she stumbled. His hands lingered on her shoulders. “It stopped,” he said unnecessarily, staring at the frozen floor numbers.
“It did this the other day,” Ryan said with a sigh. “I was stuck in here for about ten minutes with—er—Santa Claus.”
Max didn’t smile. He pressed the alarm button, but nothing happened. Tugging at the collar of his shirt, he asked, “How long did you say you were stuck in here?”
“Ten minutes, roughly.” She eyed him warily. “Don’t tell me you’re claustrophobic.”
“Not usually. It’s just that I don’t relish being stuck in an elevator. What did you do?”
“Santa distracted me.”
“A distraction, hmm? Sounds like a good idea,” Max said. Then, before she had a chance to protest, he took her in his arms and lowered his lips to hers.
All I Want for Christmas
A lifelong resident of Arkansas, romance bestselling author Gina Wilkins has written more than eighty books for Harlequin and Silhouette Books. She is a four-time recipient of the Maggie Award for Excellence presented by the Georgia Romance Writers, and she was a nominee for a Lifetime Achievement Award by Romantic Times BOOKreviews. She credits her successful career in romance to her long, happy marriage and three “extraordinary” offspring.
“PIP,” six-year-old Kelsey whispered to her nine-year-old brother. “This mall is so crowded. How will we ever find our parents?”
It was the Friday after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year. Drawn by well-advertised sales and a sudden, panicky awareness that Christmas was only a month away, shoppers had turned out in droves. And the mall was ready for them.
Cheery renditions of Christmas carols blared from unseen speakers. Dozens of artificial Christmas trees sparkled and glittered. Greenery, lights, tinsel and bows—it was a carefully choreographed Christmas wonderland.
Pip and Kelsey walked hand in hand through the chaos, wide-eyed and openmouthed. They were looking at a veritable wall of legs and backsides ahead of them.
“We’ll find them,” Pip said with a confidence that belied his nervous expression. “Don’t worry.”
Kelsey’s faith in her older brother was unconditional and limitless. She smiled at him and squeezed his hand, trusting him to make everything right. Just as she’d always trusted him to take care of her.
A colorful gingerbread house had been constructed in the center of the lower level of the four-story mall. A front porch supported by large plastic peppermint canes held an inviting, oversize rocker. In it sat a plump figure dressed in red, whose warm smile gleamed from under a thick white beard. A long line of children waited to sit in his inviting lap, their eyes shining with anticipation and greed.
“Pip, look!” Kelsey pointed. “It’s Santa.”
Pip nodded, glancing from the gingerbread house to the dollar-a-ride train slowly circling in front of it. He was worried that Kelsey would want to ride the train; the ten dollars tucked into the pocket of his worn jeans wouldn’t last long if they spent it on rides.
But Kelsey had another idea. “Let’s get in line and talk to Santa. He’ll know where we can find our parents.”
Pip winced. “Kelsey…”
She was tugging at his hand, pulling him toward the end of the long, restless line of children. “He’ll know, Pip,” she said confidently, looking up at him with her enormous, bright blue eyes. “I’m sure he will.”
Pip started to speak, but found he couldn’t shake the unwavering trust in Kelsey’s eyes. He shrugged. “Okay, you can talk to him. But don’t expect too much, Kels. After all, he’s just one of Santa’s helpers, remember? And whatever you do, don’t tell him we’re here by ourselves, okay? He’ll call the welfare people.”
Kelsey’s eyes grew even rounder. She shook her head vigorously, the movement causing her long, white blond curls to sway around her thin shoulders. “Santa wouldn’t turn us in,” she insisted. “Not before we have a chance to find our parents.”
Pip groaned. “Kelsey, promise you won’t tell him.”
She heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Okay, I won’t. But I will tell him we want to find our parents by Christmas!” she added with an uncharacteristic touch of defiance.
Pip nodded. “Okay, you can tell him that.” It couldn’t hurt, he decided.
It seemed to take hours before they finally reached the head of the line, though it couldn’t have been more than thirty minutes. Pip shook his head at the elf-garbed woman who wanted to take their picture—only six dollars for a four-by-six instant snapshot in a commemorative folder, she told them brightly. He walked his sister to Santa’s chair, then stood guard nearby as she climbed eagerly onto the man’s velvet-covered knee.
Shrewd but kind green eyes studied Pip for a moment before turning to his giggling sister. “What’s your name?” Santa asked her, his voice not booming and loud, as she’d expected, but warm and friendly.
“Kelsey Coleman,” she replied, with just a hint of a reproving frown. “But I thought you’d know that already.”
“Kelsey?” He seemed surprised as he peered at her through his tiny round glasses. “Goodness, how you’ve grown since last year! I hardly knew you.”
Appeased, she giggled again. “I’ve grown about four inches,” she informed him proudly. “And that’s Pip,” she added, waving a hand toward her brother. “He’s grown feets and feets.”
“Yes, he is much bigger than he was,” Santa agreed, turning those intent eyes on Pip once again.
The boy shifted position, feeling a bit uncomfortable beneath the scrutiny. He was relieved when the white-bearded man turned his attention back to Kelsey.