Sunday, August 31, 2014

Third Time's the Charm (Part 2) -- A Christmas By the Fire Blog Hop Story!

HarperImpulse and their Written Fireside Writers are on the cutting edge of publishing and, as such, we've hosted a fabulous blog hop during the month of August!

Fifteen authors, fifteen stories...
one shared, starting paragraph!

Read a taste of what's coming for Christmas
Read past Written Fireside stories
Enter our fabulous giveaway!

Schedule of participating authors:
Lori Connelly - Aug 1,2,3 
Erin Lawless - Aug 4,5
Mandy Baggot - Aug 6,7 
Aimee Duffy  - Aug 8,9
Teresa F. Morgan - Aug 10,11 
Angela Campbell - Aug 12,13  
Lisa Fox - Aug 14,15 
Lynn Marie Hulsman - Aug 16,17
Linn B. Halton - Aug 18,19 
Carmel Harrington - Aug 20,21 
Charlotte Phillips - Aug 22,23
Romy Sommer - Aug 24,25
Jane Lark - Aug 26,27 
Zara Stoneley - Aug 28,29 
AJ Nuest - Aug 30,31

Welcome to the final installment in the Christmas by the Fire Blog Hop -- Third Time's the Charm, Part 2! It's been a whirlwind event, with fabulous prizes and giveaways, including print books, e-books and A $70 AMAZON GIFT CARD! Be sure to follow the links below to see each author's entry and don't forget to enter the RAFFLECOPTER for your chance to WIN! 

All fifteen participating authors in this blog hop were given the same starting paragraph, written by the talented Georgia Beyers! These short stories will be published later this year as a Christmas e-book anthology by HarperImpulse, and it's been super exciting to be a part of this event! Both today and tomorrow, I'll be posting my short story in two installments for your reading pleasure. Be sure to check back to read the conclusion to Third Time's the Charm tomorrow!

Here's the winning entry as chosen by the fabulous team at HarperImpulse:  

‘Charlotte sat at the bus stop wondering whether she would make the naughty or nice list this year. Last year she had rescued a stray kitten and therefore considered herself most definitely ‘nice’. This year she had broken Daniels heart into a million tiny pieces, so ‘naughty’ seemed to be the only answer. There’d be no Santa Claus coming down her chimney anytime soon.’

If you haven't yet read part one if this story, you can do so just by scrolling down to yesterday's post. The second (and final) installment is below, for Third Time's the Charm:
The murmuring conversations, the laughing children and noise from the crinkling packages all faded to the background as Charlotte considered the little snowflake her in hand. Chances were good the old bird was right. There was more to Daniel’s hesitation than met the eye. Perhaps he’d been hurt in the past or had just experienced a bad breakup. She’d never once asked, assuming the problem either had something to do with her or the attraction between them was one-sided.
The minute she entered the department store, she by-passed her locker and strode straight for the time clock, using the pretext of punching in to check Daniel’s time card and see if he’d arrived. A huff blurted from her lips as she crammed her card back into the narrow slot. Did it even matter? Once she entered the loading dock, she’d be back to the night of the party. Was his presence today even required? Who the heck knew!
She ignored the curious glances of her co-workers, breezed through electronics and straight-armed the loading dock door all the way back on its hinges.
Warm tingles washed her skin and she drew up short as her appearance altered, all the way from her hair to the glossy red pedicure peeking through the front of her heels. Thank goodness. She hadn’t had a psychotic break and this was really happening.
A metallic clank accompanied Daniel’s soft curse, and she jumped, hurrying around the last row of metal shelves to where he knelt before the faux fireplace.
“Hi.” Her pulse quickened as she closed the space between them. She swallowed to try and clear the dryness from her throat. Put yourself in his shoes, her fairy had said. Maybe it’s time you find out Daniel’s side of the story. “I wondered if you’d mind telling me what happened back there. You know, with Walter?”
“I could just as easily ask you the same thing.” A clang echoed against the metal ceiling as he dropped the wrench to shove his hand up inside the firebox. “Though I prefer to skip the details of whether or not Walter is a good kisser.”
Touché. Yeah, they’d sorta covered this in the first go-round, though admitting the only reason she’d kissed Walter was to make Daniel jealous ranked somewhere in the vicinity of undergoing a root canal…without Novocain. “I get that you’re upset and I’m sorry. The thing I don’t understand is why. You’ve never really given me the impression you wanted anything more between us than friendship.” 
Daniel sat back from the fireplace, raking his hand through his hair, and her focus flicked to his shirt sleeve pulling taut across his bicep before she met his dark scowl. “And all those times I met you at the movie theatre? Did you think those were purely coincidence?”
Good…this was good. They were covering new territory. “No, of course not. I just didn’t—”
“Is it really such a surprise that maybe I was trying to be a gentlemen?” He stood, propping his hands on his hips. “That just maybe I was hoping we could get to know each other so I would stand a fighting chance?”
A fighting chance? She frowned. “Wait, what are you talking about? A fighting chance with who?”
“With you!” He spread his arms wide. “Good God, have you ever even looked in a mirror? You’re an eleven on a scale of one to ten! Every single guy in this department is itching for the opportunity to ask you out.”
“I am?” She blinked. “They are?”
“Yes!” He dropped his hands to his sides, shaking his head with a bitter laugh. A sigh heaved his shoulders and he pinched the bridge of his nose. “I didn’t want to be just another one of those guys you dated a few times and then ditched. That’s why I waited, so I wouldn’t start something between us until I was sure you were ready to commit.”
 Oh crap. Her stomach plummeted to somewhere under her feet. She’d royally screwed up.
“Now I can’t help but think I made the right decision.” He lifted his head, crossing his arms, and she shrank back from his penetrating squint. “But I also can’t help wondering…why Walter? What’s he got that I don’t?”
Her eyes slipped closed and she lowered her chin. “I don’t like Walter."
“Really? You sure got a funny way of showing it.” He unbuckled his tool belt and placed it on the mantel, and alarm spiked in her chest as she realized he was preparing to leave.
“It’s not like that, Daniel. Kissing Walter was a stupid mistake.” She wrapped her arms around her waist. If he walked through the door, this chance would be over, but she didn’t know what she should say to make him stay. “I only did it to make you jealous.”
“Well, you succeeded.” He strode past her, the air from his brisk stride disrupting the curl on her cheek.
“Please don’t go.” She turned to follow him around the row of high metal shelves. “I’m sorry.”
“Me too.” He stopped with his hand on the door and met her gaze over his shoulder. “But I was right. You’re not ready.” His eyes softened near the corners and her heart leapt into her throat. “Just do me a favor? Keep me in mind once you are.” He pushed from the loading dock and was gone.
 Charlotte dropped her arms, staring at the back of the door. If he was right and she wasn’t ready, then why were her lips trembling and her knees weak like she was about to dissolve in a slobbering pile of goo?
Heaving a sigh, she trudged after him, backed into the door and braced against the arctic blast cutting through her red-and-white striped tights. The woman turned on the bench, smiled and patted the empty seat on her left.
Great. What’d she have to be so happy about? Handing out the last of her empty boxes? Rounding the glass shelter, Charlotte wiped a stray tear from her eye before plopping down to the bench. Without needing instruction, she held up her palm and, once the charm had hit the center of her hand like a tiny shard of ice, she brought it over and stared down at the shimmering snowflake. A second later, it flashed and the magic it contained whispered into the night.
“Well, my work here is done.” The woman slapped her hands to her thighs and pushed to her feet. “And I have appointments to keep. I handed out several Christmas wishes while you were gone.”
Charlotte snapped her head up. “You’re leaving? What about my third chance?”
“Oh, you still get it, but how you use it is up to you.” Snowflakes danced around her gray curls like a perfect, white halo. Not a Christmas fairy. A guardian angel? “Just the same as the first and second, what happens between you and Daniel has always been in your control.”
“Well…” Charlotte tossed her hands in the air. “I thought maybe you’d give me a bit of advice. Like, some guidance or words of wisdom to help me make my decisions?”
“Oh, dearie, I wish I could.” Leaning close, she placed both hands on Charlotte’s shoulders and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “Unfortunately, love doesn’t come with an instruction manual.” She cupped Charlotte’s cheek and cleared another stray tear with her thumb. “But consider Daniel’s heart. It’s not too late, you know. You could still make the ‘nice’ list this year.”   
With a wink, she turned and waddled down the sidewalk, disappearing among the milling shoppers rushing in and out of the endless line of stores. Charlotte slumped. As frustrating as their time had been, she was really going to miss that loony old bird.
The beep of a horn made her jump and she scrambled for the bus before it had the chance to leave without her on it.
The entire ride to work, she struggled over how best to approach Daniel. The question wasn’t whether or not she was ready. In more ways than she could count, she was already his. The issue was how to convince him their hearts were one and the same. Lord knew if she’d walked into the employee lounge to find him lip locked with Fiona—in front of the entire staff, no less—she would’ve hightailed it out of there and written him off as a major player. Unless, of course, he’d chased after her, confessed his mistake and sealed the deal with a few well placed—
The screech of the brakes rocked her forward and she glanced through the window before racing for the back door. She skirted the line of employees waiting to clock in, ignored the crowd lingering near the lockers and headed straight for the loading dock door.
“Daniel!” She pushed through and kept walking, her fists swinging in time with each determined stride. Rounding the last row of metal shelves, she kicked off her heels and sprinted at him full force, locking her aim to where he knelt before the fireplace. Once she got her hands on him, she was never letting him go.
 His eyes widened. He rose to his feet. A few unsteady steps backward, and he lifted his hands. “Whoa, whoa, what are you doing?”
“I could just as easily ask you the same thing.” A slight change in her angle, and she leapt into his arms, hanging tight to his neck as she covered his face in kisses. “I’m so sorry, Daniel. Going anywhere near Walter was a huge mistake. A terrible, stupid mistake.” Again and again, she captured his lips, hoping…wishing and praying she wasn’t too late. “Please don’t be angry with me.”
He hesitated. His arms tightened around her. His mouth parted and his sigh mingled with hers as he deepened their kiss. A slow withdrawal, and he spun her in his arms, a grin creasing the scruff on his cheeks. “God, Charlotte, what took you so long? I’ve been waiting for you to give me the go ahead for nearly two months.”
“I know.” She landed on her toes and brought him down to her lips a second time. “I can’t tell you how horrible I feel. But, moving forward, I promise not to kiss anyone else except you.”
 “Really?” His brow twitched and he reached into his tool belt, held up the fireplace remote and wiggled it in his fingers. “So does that mean you’re willing to forego the company party to have our own private Christmas before the fire?” He thumbed the switch and the mechanism hummed. Heat washed the backs of her legs as the reflection of the pretend flames glinted in his beautiful blue eyes.
“Yay, you finally fixed it.” She combed his hair back from his brow, the strands silky and sleek through her fingers. “I’m not going anywhere. Not anymore.” 
“Good.” He hugged her close and she squeezed him just as tight as a bright flash illuminated the room. Leaning back, he glanced around the rafters. “Did you see that?”
A sparkle caught the corner of her eye and she eased away from him to slip a little silver snowflake off the mantel. “Yep.” She smiled down at the gift—a wish granted she’d received from her Christmas fairy. “Thanks to you,” she whispered. “Looks like third time’s the charm.”

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