~ CHRISTI BARTH ~
I grew up in Los Angeles, a place where you wore scarves for fashion rather than out of necessity. So when I moved to a city with four seasons, I embraced everything wintery. Especially at Christmas, when I got to live the holiday the way I’d only seen it depicted in movies.
When I wrote Tinsel My Heart, I got to weave that excitement and weather-be-damned happiness right into the story.
A thin crust of ice atop the snow crunched beneath Becca’s boots. It was a cheerful wintertime sound that made her think of bulging stockings and glittery gift wrap. Of course, it also made her anticipate the schnapps-spiked cocoa awaiting them later. Cutting down Christmas trees with the cast was one of her favorite holiday traditions.
Trudging beside her, however, Jack looked more like a man on his way to an execution. Well, a very sexy lumberjack on his way to an execution. She couldn’t overlook how carrying an axe on his shoulder transformed him from city slicker bad boy to rugged outdoorsman.
Yes, my husband and I decided, many years ago to cut down our own Christmas tree. Something that sounded far better in theory than it was in execution. We were starring in the holiday extravaganza that is depicted in Tinsel My Heart. Thirty-six performances in fifteen days didn’t leave us much spare time for a foray into the woods. We had a four hour window on exactly one Saturday.
Unfortunately, that was the day when the thermometer dipped to -35. With a wind chill of -65. Yup, we got this hare-brained idea when we lived in Minneapolis. That was the day the Governor got on the radio and ordered everyone to stay inside. But we were young, determined, and, well, very foolish. Would we ever do it again. Ah, NO. Am I glad we did? Yes. I lived out a Christmas fantasy. And I got to use the experience to transform my anti-Christmas hero. At the start of his tree-cutting adventure, Jack’s surly, at best:
“I hate Minnesota. I hate Christmas. Those facts aren’t news to you.” He angled his head out from beneath the branches to stare at her. “I’m not one of these trees. You can’t tinsel my heart and expect to turn me into Santa Claus.”
But while he’s on his back beneath the needles, hacking away at the frozen trunk, his girlfriend gets him to open up. The rest of their group sings carols non-stop. And slowly, the magic of the season works upon him:
Then the tree creaked and started to lean.
“Shit!” Jack rolled out as fast as he could. Luckily, the pine fell in the opposite direction with a final snap of its trunk. Becca’s laughter pealed through the icy air. A smattering of applause started, then grew louder. His cast ran toward him, cheering. Even the pain-in-the-ass deputy mayor was clapping and smiling at Jack’s achievement.
Huh. No divas, no personal agendas, no Hollywood types. Just a cast coming together as a community to celebrate. It didn’t suck. They formed a circle around his felled pine and began to sing “O Christmas Tree.” And he had to admit, for this one moment, it was kinda nice to have his own personal soundtrack.
My own adventure didn’t end so well. We propped the tree in a bucket of water on our enclosed porch and ran off to do three performances. When we came home, it was frozen solid in the bucket. We had a tree-sicle, and no way to get it into the tree stand. But after the frustration melted away, it did turn into a treasured holiday memory.
Becca Huntley’s produced the Lyndale Park Player’s over-the-top Christmas pageant for ten years. The beloved Minneapolis tradition is the theatre’s main fundraiser. But this year’s production is almost canceled when their director disappears into rehab at the last minute. Good thing his directing partner steps in to save the day. Except for the minor fact that he hates everything about Christmas.
Jack Whittaker wiped the Twin Cities off his shoe with his graduation tassel and never looked back. But duty compels him to fulfill Tyler’s promise to direct the show. Even though it means working side-by-side with Becca, the girl he always wanted, lost to Ty, but never forgot.
It’ll take more than a few handfuls of tinsel to soften Jack’s heart toward Becca’s favorite holiday. Steamy kisses that melt the snow right off his boots are a step in the right direction. They’ll both discover that Christmas is about making each other’s dreams come true. But will doing so destroy their chance at a happily-ever-after together?
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She picked up the end of her braid and tickled his cheek. “Told ya.”
The silken hair set off a chain reaction in his body. Blood pounded south in great, galloping leaps and bounds to pool in his crotch. Jack hadn’t experienced an insta-hard-on like that in years. He quickly shifted the black script binder across his lap.
“You’ve changed, Becca.”
“Since high school? I would hope so.” Then her lips pursed. “Okay, you’ve piqued my curiosity. Exactly how have I changed?”
“You’ve grown from a pretty girl into a beautiful woman.”
“Oh.” Her pale cheeks turned the color of ripe strawberries. It made Jack wonder if her nipples were the same color. Or would turn that color after he used his lips on them. “Um, thank you. And let me just say that adding a few pounds of pure muscle didn’t hurt you any, either.”
Interesting. Might as well push a little harder, see what developed. “Here I thought you were going to comment on my righteously masculine goatee.”
As if lifted by marionette strings, her hand rose, scraped along the end-of-day stubble on his cheeks to trace the outline of the goatee. “It, ah, makes you look devilish.”
“Want to dance with the devil?”
“What?” Her gaze flew up to meet his as her hands dropped to her lap. “You want to dance?”
Super literal people made flirting much more difficult. Jack sighed. “Metaphorically.” When she still looked bewildered, he continued. “Forget it. Do you want to have dinner with me?”
She blinked, rapidly. Looked down at her hands twisting together. “That depends.”
It wasn’t a complicated question. Jack didn’t want her take on the crisis in Syria. Why would a simple dinner invite come with conditions? “On what?”
Becca looked over both shoulders, as if to check they were still alone. Or as alone as you could get in a three hundred-seat theatre full of people milling about from the lobby to the dressing rooms. “Are you just lonely, Jack? Because of Ty?”
“I’m a grown-ass man. I can eat by myself,” he growled.
“I know. I guess my real question is, do you want to have dinner with just anyone? Or do you want to have dinner with me?” She fluttered her hands up to cover her heart.
Now he got it. Well, he didn’t get why she had the crazy female insecurity, but at least he knew what she was driving at. “I want to have dinner with you. Only you. Not because we used to be good friends. Not even because we’ve slid pretty well back into those roles. And not just dinner.” Jack grasped her chin between his thumb and forefinger. “You’re a beautiful woman who heats me up every time you slide those cool lake eyes over me. With enough talent and know-how and passion for my business to make for interesting conversation. So what I want from you, Becca, is a date.”
To his utter surprise, she didn’t blush again. Or look away. Or for that matter, look flustered at all. Instead, she mimicked his pose, putting her hand to his mouth. Rubbed her soft thumb in a slow glide across his lower lip. Her eyes darkened from the clear blue of Lake Harriet in the summer to the darkness of a winter’s night.
“Well, why didn’t you say so? Of course I’ll go out with you.”
No matter how many he tried on for size, women never failed to confound him. Jack didn’t know what he’d said to peel off her timidity. Didn’t care, either. Just looked forward to an evening filled with more surprises from the woman he was discovering he liked even more than the girl he used to adore.
Christi has an ebook copy of TINSEL MY HEART up for grabs!
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