Read Christmas Miracle Online

Authors: Shara Azod

Tags: #Romance

Christmas Miracle (2 page)

Chapter Three

 

“Vivi swore you were attractive,” Leslie heard a voice outside the small locker room announce loudly, and rudely. “You’re not fat, but you certainly aren’t the idea, are you? And way too ethnic to have come from the North Pole.”

What the hell?
Leslie had been working with some bubble-headed blonde this season. One who didn’t particularly care for children, or men she thought beneath her, like the kind who played Santa at a mall. Not that he’d ever be interested in a gold digger who wanted to be a star. That was a scene he’d seen played out in real life too many times to ever be caught up in it himself.

“I-well

Vivi told me she okayed the switch with you, I mean her boss

” The scared, sweet-voiced reply was barely audible through the door. Leslie was shocked to hear something in that voice he hadn’t heard in ages—innocence. Innocence mixed with a healthy dose of earnestness, at that. His interest was immediately piqued.

Creeping to the door, he pressed an ear against it, not ashamed in the least to eavesdrop.

“Well, you better be damned glad it’s too late to get a replacement today,” the nasty, condescending male announced. “You better hope you fit in that uniform, girl. And don’t ruin it. You won’t be back next weekend. You can leave it in the locker on Sunday. We’ll have it dry cleaned.” The voice finished in a sneer that was audible. The man, whoever he was, had just ensured that not only would Leslie have him fired by the end of the day, but he’d make damn sure the odious creature didn’t get another position anywhere in Southern California. But then the voice went and put the icing on the cake. “If I catch you stealing anything, you’ll be arrested on the spot. And I
will
be watching.”

There was silence after that, then a little sniffle. That son of a bitch had made her cry. Leslie felt a fury he hadn’t felt in a very long time. One on behalf of another.

That fucking prick! Leslie was so pissed he didn’t bother to do more than step back when the door to the locker room opened. As soon as the woman who’d been on the receiving end of the conversation stepped through, Leslie was caught between being thoroughly pissed and completely enthralled.

The petite African American woman who entered the room was simply stunning. Her smooth skin looked absolutely edible, a tempting mixture of rich chocolate and caramel. With a face completely free of any make-up or enhancement, her beauty was all natural, soul deep. He knew that even though he really didn’t know a damn thing about her. Other than she’d just been verbally assaulted by a man who would soon taste his wrath.

“Who the hell was that speaking to you just now?” he demanded, so set in making sure he fired the right person, it escaped him that she would know who he was on sight.

“Oh, my God! You’re—you’re Leslie Trace Brooks!” The woman gawked at him, her voice a whispered shout, rather than answering his question. “And you’re shirtless.”

Oh right. He’d forgotten all about the shirt—and the being incognito part. Wow, that was the first time that had ever happened.

Wide brown eyes still swimming in tears stared up at him in wonder, framed by the longest natural lashes he’d ever seen, even if they were spiked with moisture. Fuck, she was beautiful. Truly artifice-free beautiful. And he should know—he’d seen just about every kind of beauty there was.

“I’m so sorry for staring,” the woman further startled him by saying after a few moments. Hell, he’d meant to say something, but she was just so

unique, he’d forgotten to. “You probably didn’t want anyone to know you’re filling in as Santa.”

Astute. Given the Santa pants he was wearing, she probably thought this was a one-time, or at most a sometimes thing.

“I won’t tell anyone, I swear. I’m so sorry for walking in on you,” the woman rushed on. “I’ll just go change somewhere else.”

God, he was loving that voice. It was all sugary sweet, but without any accent at all. The voice was real, and real was so rare in his world.

“No.” Finally finding his voice, he blurted out the one word, forgetting to clarify what he was saying no to.

“Uh, sorry?” Poor thing. She looked adorably confused, and he really couldn’t blame her.

“No, don’t leave. The locker room is big enough for two,” he clarified, gathering his shit together at long last. “And no, I’m not filling in. I’ve been the Santa here since I bought the place five years ago.”

Now he sounded like a saintly asshole. Great. Was there even such a thing? This little beauty had his world spinning way off its axis.

“But,” he added, determined not to forget he really needed to fire the man who’d dared to talk down to her earlier, “I really need to know who the jerk was talking to you just now.”

“Oh, that.” The woman shrugged, blushing hard. A real, honest-to-goodness blush. “That was nothing. Just a misunderstanding. Vivi probably didn’t tell him

well, maybe he was expecting another blonde?”

“You mean she didn’t mention that you’re black with the curves of a woman, not those of an underdeveloped teenager like your friend?” Leslie didn’t mean to reach out and touch her. It was just that he had to see if her cheeks felt as hot as they looked. Given the deep reddish color blooming on her face, he was pretty sure her flesh should be close to flaming.

And it was. Where the hell had this woman been all his life? And why had he instinctively trusted her with one of his most tightly held secrets? The last thing he wanted was paparazzi finding out and mobbing what should be a joyous time for the kids who visited him.

“I’m sure that wasn’t it.” But her eyes went down and to the left while she said that.

Wow, people really did that? Leslie was used to people lying to his face, but it was usually done with the utmost sincerity.

“What’s your name, sweetheart?” He decided to switch gears; he would just have to find out the information some other way.

“Mikki. Mikki Washington.”

Cute. It suited her. And it was so much better than referring to her as “the woman” in his head.

“Tell you what, Mikki.” Leslie soothed two fingers over her heated, petal-soft cheek, unable to help himself. For some reason he just couldn’t seem to stop himself from touching her. “You get ready for the kids. I promise to keep my back turned while you dress, okay? Just promise me you’ll allow me to get that jerk after work.”

There went that wide-eyed stare again. When general fans gave him that look, it was annoying. Mikki made him feel anything but annoyed. When she looked at him, he actually felt special. Since his first film, he’d been very careful to remind himself daily he was just a man like any other. His profession just made him more visible than most. But Mikki made him feel special in a different way. A way he couldn’t really explain.

“You don’t have anything to make up for,” Mikki insisted. “And you really don’t have to keep your back turned. I know you won’t look. Why would you?” She laughed after that statement. “I mean, I’m not planning on getting completely naked, and you’ve seen a lot better, I’m sure.”

Not fucking likely.

“My mall, my management,” he shot back with a gentle smile. “I insist.”

“Oh.” Blinking, she nodded as if that made perfect sense. “Okay then, but you still don’t have to turn your back. Unless you want to. And I can understand why you’d want to—”

He kissed her. Just a gentle caress of lips, but he absolutely had to. Mikki Washington was just about the most adorable thing he’d seen in far too long.

“Good. Done,” he murmured against her lips. “After we delight the kiddies, I will take you out to make up for my obnoxious mall manager.”

“He wasn’t all that bad, I think I just shocked him.” Mikki laughed nervously. “I’m sure he didn’t mean half of what he said.”

Well at least now he knew who it was that had been talking to her. It had been a guess, since there were a couple of other people it could’ve been. For the first time since his sister had died, Leslie felt the holiday spirit and something more. Something he thought had died for him a long time ago.

Hope.

Chapter Four

 

Six long hours and over a hundred kids later, Leslie was aching. Not his muscles, not even his jaw from the deep “Ho, ho, hos” he’d had to bellow all day. He was aching because Santa’s helper had managed to thoroughly seduce him without sparing him more than a few glances all day.

Once the kids started lining up, there’d been no starry-eyed stares from Mikki. Instead she’d dedicated herself totally to all the children waiting to see Santa. And she was damn good at dealing with them too. With her calming crying babies, getting unruly toddlers to behave, even humoring skeptical older kids, the day had been a breeze. And she’d done it all with a genuine smile, no muttering under her breath as her predecessor had done.

Leslie found he hadn’t been able to watch her for very long. That fake red velvet outfit trimmed with equally fake fur fit a little too well, showcasing all her curves to great advantage. Leslie noticed more than a few dads leering at her, a few adjusting themselves discreetly. That really irked him. The idea of other men finding her attractive was fine, but visibly lusting after her was damn near intolerable. Jealousy was a foreign concept to him; he wasn’t quite sure how to take it.

When the line finally closed and all the children and their parents had gone, Leslie found he was unwilling to leave her to tidy up by herself. Usually he was gone as soon as the line closed, but now he lingered. Partially because he was half afraid someone might come along and snatch her up. Not literally, but he was taking no chances another man might make a move before he did. Also, he really wanted her to be there when he fired the man who’d disrespected her.

The mall manager had walked by several times during the day, his lips curled into a prominent sneer. Leslie had all day to come up with a plan, and he was sure he’d stumbled across a good one after three hours listening to the dreams of the kids who had come to see Santa. A quick call during their brief lunch break was all he needed to set the plan in motion. All he needed was for Mikki to cooperate.

Spying his attorney waiting just beyond the little white gate, he put his arm through Mikki’s, urging her without words to come with him.

“I have to finish cleaning the area.” Mikki cast a look back at the mess the kids had made with the cheap little plastic toys and candy wrappers they’d gotten from their visit to Santa. There were even some pictures with Santa littering the ground. Man, would those parents be pissed if it were ever revealed Leslie Brooks had been the Santa their child had visited, and they’d just thrown the picture on the ground like it was nothing. He’d even signed them, albeit as Santa.

“Do you think your friend Vivi ever stuck around to clean?”

That comment was awarded with a bright smile and an even brighter giggle. It was the first smile aimed directly at him, only for him. God, he hoped it wouldn’t be the last.

“No, she probably didn’t, but it seems rude to leave it all for the janitors.”

If he wasn’t already smitten, he would’ve been at that comment. How was it possible someone hadn’t snatched her up already?

“There’s someone I’d like you to meet,” he urged, really wanting to get away from the mall as soon as possible.

It should have taken about thirty seconds to get to the little gate, but Leslie walked slowly, just wanting a little time alone with her. Sure, he’d have plenty later tonight—hopefully—but he’d been waiting all day to touch her.

“Mikki, this is my lawyer, Gavin Michaelson,” Leslie introduced her as soon as they made it to the gate. “Gavin, this is Miss Mikki Washington, who just might have stolen my heart.”

Shit, that was sappy. Gavin gave him a quizzical glance, but otherwise didn’t bat an eyelash. But then he was well paid not to. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Washington.” After the obligatory handshake, the attorney turned back to him, all business. “I have the nondisclosure agreement, along with the other thing you requested.”

It was amazing what money and fame could buy. Leslie merely nodded, not ready to let Mikki in what was about to happen just yet.

“Oh, right,” Mikki surprised both men by saying. She stopped, pulling her arm away from him, something that didn’t please him at all. “Do you have a pen? I’ll sign it right now.”

Gavin managed to look more perplexed than he had originally.

“I don’t know where you found her, but if I were you I’d keep her,” Gavin blurted out for what Leslie was sure was the first time in his professional career. “Just make sure you move far away from L.A.”

Leslie couldn’t help it—he had to laugh. A good, honest-to-God cleansing laugh; the kind he hadn’t been moved to in forever. Mikki was the only one out of the loop, looking for all the world like she’d just heard instructions on how to build a spaceship, then been asked to build it.

“The NDA isn’t for you, sweetheart,” Leslie explained, placing his arm through hers once more, then urging her to walk alongside him again. “Just trust me, okay?”

“Okay.”

The answer was immediate, without any reservation. Leslie stumbled just a little at the force of that one, miniscule word. Okay, she trusted him, and he hadn’t done a damn thing to earn that trust.

Mikki Washington was a rare find indeed, and one he didn’t think he would be able to let go.

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