I am so excited to be guest blogger on Delilah Devlin’s blog today. Thanks to you, Delilah, for all the time and work you exert to promote other authors’ work. It’s really fun to be here right now, during the holidays. I hope all of you are enjoying the preparations for celebrating your traditions.
Speaking of holidays, when I was a little girl, one of the most beloved traditions in our house was the way in which we were awakened on Christmas Day. It didn’t take me long to learn that my Daddy was the biggest kid of all. As long as I can remember, he always woke up first on Christmas Day. He’d put the coffee on, but when he’d start cooking breakfast, which he did every morning so my Mom could sleep a little longer, he’d suddenly have trouble. Pots and pans would rattle, cabinet doors would bang, and plates and cups would sound as though they were about to break. He was trying to wake us up so we could all run into the den together to see what Santa Claus had brought us.
Now, my brothers and I have our own families and our own holiday traditions, but sometimes I wake up early on Christmas morning and I think I can hear Daddy rattling pots and pans, hoping to wake my brothers and me, so we can enjoy finding what Santa Claus brought us—and he can enjoy watching us.
I have never lost that excitement I got from my dad, about Christmas morning. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I love everything about it, from the glitter and sparkle, to the spirituality. So naturally, I love Christmas stories, both reading and writing them, and by the way, Christmas movies too.
This year, I’m excited to have a new indie Christmas novella in 23,000 words, Christmas Bodyguard. I wrote it using my favorite Christmas theme—no room at the inn. The story is about a police detective who hates Christmas and a young pregnant widow who’s about to give birth and is determined to give Christmas to her brand new baby.
Detective Trevor Atkins has good reason to hate Christmas. On Christmas Eve four years ago, his pregnant wife fell and lost their baby. Now divorced, Trevor deals with Christmas the only way he can, by ignoring it. When he is assigned to guard a widow who is the only surviving victim of a suspected serial killer, he expects just another assignment. But when Trevor arrives, he is stunned. This may be the hardest assignment he’s ever faced. The widow is kind, beautiful and very, very pregnant. And she’s putting up Christmas decorations all over the safe house.
Merry Randolph takes her joy where she can find it. She lost her new husband in a tragic helicopter crash only weeks into her pregnancy, and then she survived an attack from the notorious Widow Killer. Merry is determined to have a real Christmas for her family—herself and her unborn child—even if her stubbornly sexy police bodyguard doesn’t want any part of it.
When an ice storm hits and Merry’s contractions start, they are forced to leave the safe house and enter a tightening web of danger. Trevor must face his heartbreak and loss, and Merry must trust her life to a stranger who is only doing his job if she wants to survive to see her baby born on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Bodyguard Excerpt:
Police Detective Trevor Atkins jabbed at another button on the radio, muttering curses under his breath. It was Christmas Eve. Even the rock station was playing Christmas music. He switched it off. He was nearly at his destination anyway.
He exited the interstate two hours north of Atlanta, onto a two-lane road, headed toward the precinct’s safe house. His eyes skimmed over a couple of houses sporting Christmas decorations and lights, trying to ignore the rising rhythm of his pulse and the worm of sadness that gnawed at his heart.
Damn, he hated Christmas.
Ten minutes later, he turned onto the street where the safe house was located. It was an isolated neighborhood, perfect for safely hiding a witness away from someone who might harm her. The street looked as though the developer had gone bankrupt in the middle of the project. There were only a few other houses completed, and those appeared deserted. They still had stickers on the windows and fill dirt where the lawns should have been. The only sign of life was a Randolph and Ducharmes delivery truck that passed him going the opposite direction. He eyed it in his rearview mirror. That could hardly be a coincidence.
The witness’s family owned the upscale department stores. He reached for his cell phone and called his boss.
“Captain, what’s up? An R&D delivery truck just passed me, coming from the safe house.”
The captain sighed. “The perils of babysitting the rich and famous. Apparently, Mrs. Randolph needed a few things. Don’t worry, Trevor. Sims rode shotgun. The delivery was legit.”
“Legit? Maybe, but it was also very visible.”
“The mayor’s office called me. Think I had any choice?”
Trevor pocketed his phone and arched his neck to ease the tension. The holidays always increased his stress level, but he’d been glad to do a favor for a fellow detective by switching duty schedules with him. Stokes had a family. Christmas was important to him.
Guarding witnesses scheduled to testify was a boring task. The witnesses were usually consumed with worry about their testimony, and the most exciting event was likely to be a good ball game on TV. Guarding a spoiled heiress would up the annoyance factor slightly, but not beyond what Trevor could handle.
His charge, Merry Ducharmes Randolph, was the only surviving victim of the Widow Killer, a name given by the press to the elusive killer who had killed three widows within the past year.
But they’d only been able to charge Harry Bonner, Merry’s attacker, with attempted robbery and assault. As badly as the Atlanta Police Department wanted to solve the Widow Killer murders, they’d been unable to positively link Bonner to the other three women. He had no prior arrests, and he’d turned up no hits on either the DNA or fingerprint database.
Trevor parked his white pickup in the driveway of the nondescript house next to Detective Amanda Moss’s SUV. Turning up the collar of his jacket against the rapidly falling temperature, he started up the walk. Before he reached the porch, Detective Moss flung open the front door, causing the sleigh bells on the Christmas wreath to jangle. “Hi, Trevor,” she said, her breath turning to ice crystals as she spoke. “Nice to have you on the case. I’ve got to run if I’m going to finish wrapping the kids’ gifts.”
“Merry,” she called back over her shoulder, “this is Detective Atkins.”
Trevor nodded at Amanda, then stepped up to the front door and scowled toward the narrow strip of face visible between the door and the door facing. The single eye narrowed suspiciously. “Good morning, Mrs. Randolph. Like Detective Moss said, I’m your new day-shift detective,” he said dryly. “Replacing Roger Stokes. My name is Trevor Atkins.”
When the door finally opened wide, Trevor’s gaze ran slap into a pair of bright green eyes under a red Santa hat. Long, pale brown hair framed a heart-shaped face, and a full mouth showed a hint of white teeth above a determined chin.
The Santa hat stirred his knee-jerk aversion to anything connected with Christmas. He tried to force his expression to remain neutral as a faint pink glow lit the woman’s cheeks and a hesitant smile spread across her face. So, this was the widow. She was familiar, and not just from TV news spots about the attack she’d survived. He’d noticed those emerald-green eyes before.
He sighed. Wreath, bells, Santa hat? Great. Obviously, she loved Christmas. “You got word that I’m taking Detective Stokes’ place over Christmas eve and day ?”
“Yes.” She took a step backward, still hanging onto the door with one hand and a piece of red cloth in the other. “But Amanda will be back tonight, right?” The quaver in her voice matched the wariness in her eyes.
“That’s right. Detective Moss is still your night guard.”
A flicker of relief passed across her face. He’d seen that look before in assault victims. A fearful mistrust of men that, for some victims, never went away. He almost apologized for invading her privacy, then nearly laughed at himself. She didn’t know it yet, but there was no one on the planet safer for her to be with than he was. She was under his protection, and he would never violate her trust or risk her safety. She’d eventually figure that out and then she’d relax.
He stepped past her into the modest living room. The sight that greeted him almost knocked him to his knees. Every square inch of floor space was covered with Christmas. A sea of gold Randolph and Ducharmes bags full of ornaments flowed into dozens of red and pink poinsettias in brightly wrapped pots. To his left, a monstrous Christmas tree aglow with white twinkling lights almost blocked a large picture window. A staggering horror tightened his chest and streaked like electricity out to his fingers and toes. He felt the blood drain from his face. The smell of mulberry and cedar turned his stomach.
Images he’d banished to the dark side of his heart swirled around him—long bright corridors, sympathetic faces, the low soft lights of the hospital’s chapel. A sterile, quiet, sad room. Trevor squeezed his eyes shut. He’d never passed out in his life, but there was always a first time. Steadying himself with a hand on the back of the sofa, he sucked in a deep breath. “What the hell is all this?” he rasped when he could finally speak.
When he opened his eyes, Mrs. Randolph was standing behind a table, eyeing him the way a cornered mouse watched a cat. “I—I asked the store to send over some Christmas decorations. No one had—you know—” she gestured vaguely “—decorated the house.” Her voice rose and strengthened in the space of those few words.
“This is not a store window, Mrs. Randolph. It’s a safe house,” he said harshly.
She sniffed. “Oh please, Detective. It’s Christmas Eve.” She spread the red cloth over a table.
“So that’s what the truck was delivering.” His captain was a coward. He knew Trevor’s history. He could have warned him that it was a truck full of Christmas. Well, the stuff would just have to go back. He would not be subjected to Christmas. He’d taken this job to avoid the holiday and the tragic memories attached to it.
“Look, Mrs. Randolph, all this has got to go. We are not here for a party,” he said just as she stepped out from behind the table and he got his first good, head-to-toe look at the glowing woman in front of him.
“Oh, God—” His chest tightened and his head spun. He gripped the back of the couch more tightly and fought the surge of dizziness and gut-wrenching nausea that broadsided him.
“What?” Merry cried, her eyes widening. “What is it?”
Confused, Merry Randolph stared at the detective’s chiseled features. His mouth was compressed so tightly the corners of his lips were white. What was his problem? She smiled.
“Of course I’m pregnant. How could you possibly not know?” Her every move had been chronicled by the media for the past seven months. “My husband’s helicopter accident, then the attack? I’ve been the favorite local news filler for the entire Atlanta area these past months.” She tasted the bitterness that darkened her voice.
Detective Atkins didn’t move a muscle. He just stood there, his face drained of color, his eyes squeezed shut.
“Detective, are you all right? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
He wiped a hand over his face and shot her a hard glance, then turned away and shrugged out of his jacket. With his back to her, he didn’t seem quite so intimidating. She let out a breath of relief. Why couldn’t Detective Stokes have foregone Christmas Eve and Christmas morning to stay with her? She winced at her selfish thought. Of course she didn’t mean that. He deserved to spend Christmas with his family, even if his doting, fatherly disposition had made her feel completely safe and comfortable. Detective Atkins had been here less than five minutes and there was nothing remotely fatherly about him. He had a lean and hungry look, as though he could slay dragons.
She thought about what the captain and his lieutenant, and several other police officials, had told her over and over. We’re the good guys. We’ll keep you safe.
As Detective Atkins folded his jacket and lay it on the back of the sofa, she noticed the brown leather straps of a shoulder holster crisscrossing the black T-shirt he wore. His movements were spare and efficient as he adjusted the holster and checked his weapon. He angled his head as if he’d sensed her scrutiny, and then rounded on her. “Do you realize you may have compromised this safe house by having all this delivered?”
“What?” She recoiled at his cold tone.
“That R&D delivery truck might as well have sported a banner—This Way to the Witness.” He shook his head, his voice as cold as the wind outside.
Merry’s heart pounded and she bit her lip. She should have thought of that. But in her defense, this was the store’s busiest time of year. “Randolph and Ducharmes has trucks making deliveries all over the city.”
The detective shot her a disgusted look. “Not in abandoned neighborhoods.”
She had no response for that.
“I’m here to protect you from a suspected killer, not deal with a house full of Christmas—” He bit off the end of the sentence.
Frustration and a deep sadness burned in Merry’s stomach, until, by force of will, she bullied those feelings into determination. She’d never had a real, homey Christmas. Not once. Her parents were nationally renowned philanthropists who had spent their married life traveling the world to work with their own and others’ charitable ventures. This year, as every year, they’d found as much to do during the holidays as during any other time of year. For most of their twin daughters’ lives, Merry and Christy had traveled with them, tutors in tow. Now Christy, whose full name was Christmas , was a runway model and almost never had time to come home to Atlanta, except on business.
As bad as this entire year had been, Merry was determined to end the year the way she wanted. She might be locked up in a barely furnished house under police protection during the holidays, but no matter what else happened, she planned to spend Christmas surrounded by beautiful decorations.
“Detective, I could not possibly be more aware of how serious my situation is. A man who may be a serial killer is out on bail pending his trial, and he knows I can identify him.” She lifted her chin. “I can see in your face what you think of me. But if I stay in this house, it will be decorated for Christmas. This past year has been the worst of my life.” To her utter dismay, she felt a tear spill over and drip down her cheek. “I lost my husband, I was almost murdered, and now I’m spending the holidays in an ugly house located who knows where and unable to see my family. I will have Christmas decorations!”
She swiped the tear away. Her little guy was sure playing havoc with her hormones, but she would not cry in front of Scrooge McCop. She turned her back and picked up a crystal ornament from one of the bags. “I apologize if guarding me is keeping you from Christmas with your wife and children,” she said as she stretched to hang the ornament.
He sucked in a long breath. Her shoulders tensed.
“You’re not keeping me from anything. I’m divorced. I don’t have chil—” He practically choked on the word “children.” She turned and caught a haunting sadness clouding his eyes. His sadness pierced her heart like an arrow. She’d unwittingly tapped into a private place inside him, a place she was sure no one ever saw.
With a flash of insight, she realized that Detective Atkins wasn’t just a Scrooge who hated the holidays. His gruff manner hid a tragedy—a tragedy that centered around Christmas and children. His children?
(End of Excerpt)
Thanks again, to everyone. I would love to hear about your favorite childhood holiday tradition, if you’d like to post a comment. You can do that by clicking Say Something/Something Said, below. I hope you’ll consider picking up Christmas Bodyguard if you want a quick and heartwarming read for the holidays. You can find it, or any of my other books, by clicking one of the links below.
Christmas Bodyguard is available now at your favorite ebook retailer.