Author: Shelby Morgen
Cover Art: Bryan Keller
Genres: Guilty Pleasures (Contemporary), New Releases, Romance
Themes: 2nd Chance Romance, Christmas, Men and Women in Uniform, Silver Fox, Single Parent/Pregnancy Romance
Book Length: Novella
Page Count: 56
A woman running from her past. A man with no future. A little boy with one simple Christmas wish.
Mika wants a daddy for Christmas. Deputy Kaden Hunter may be just the Christmas miracle Stevie needs… if the drug dealers and her thieving ex don’t catch up with her first.
Healing may be just one kiss away.
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2019 Shelby Morgen
It was after two a.m. by the time Stevie scooped a sleeping Mika up out of the chair in Mel’s office and followed Janice out the back door. Her arms ached from the late mop-up and her back hurt from standing at the drive-thru register for the last nine hours, but Mika was full and happy, with a racecar in his pocket, and she had a job. Lord knew how many regulations Mel’d broken putting her right on the floor like that, but he’d written her up as a rehire, even though it had been four years. And really, nothing much had changed. She’d figured out the updated menu buttons long before the after-work crowd had thinned to a trickle.
She crossed the street to the market, devoid now of the outdoor Christmas display and the crowd. And everything else. The parking lot was utterly empty. She stood under the light, staring blankly, unable to comprehend. How could her car not be here? She knew she’d left the car here. Right here. In the front row, near the doors, under the security light. Because it was safe. And easily seen.
And now it was… gone.
It wasn’t a great car. A twelve-year-old Toyota, with over one hundred thousand miles on it, but still. It was a car. It ran. And everything she had left was in that car. What was she going to do now? She couldn’t walk across town to their apartment carrying Mika. Not at night. Not in this weather. It was far too cold. He’d get sick. She couldn’t lose that car. How could you lose a car?
Santa and the children’s train ride were packed away for the night. There were no cars in the employee lot. Everything was quiet now aside from the occasional whistle of the wind that whipped the snowflakes under her hood to sting her cheeks.
Someone had to know where her car was. Stevie pressed her face to the plate glass window. The whole front of the market was dark — even the multicolored Christmas lights outlining the plate glass panes were dark, now, hanging dead and barren like ghosts of Christmas past, but she could see white work lights in the very back. The stock crew worked overnights, when the market was closed. Maybe they parked around back.
It was a business, so there wasn’t any doorbell. She raised her free arm — the one that wasn’t holding Mika tight against her to keep him warm — and smacked her palm on the big glass door. Hard. Hard enough to rattle it a bit and made a dull thud, but nothing anyone in the back would be able to hear. She tried pounding on the door with her fist.
“Hey!” she shouted. “I need my car! Give me back my car!”
“Momma? What’s wrong? Are you OK?”
“I’m fine, baby. Everything’s going to be OK.” She pounded on the window again. “Where is my car, damn it!”
Headlights flashed off the plate glass windows, and a siren blared half a beat, then quit. Stevie turned slowly to face the inevitable. She could feel the tears starting to roll down her cheeks. This day just couldn’t get any worse.
As soon as the thought formed, Stevie knew she’d just challenged Fate to screw with her… again.
* * *
Kaden Hunter parked his patrol car right in front of the market’s main doors, crossways to the fire lane, so his lights lit up the whole storefront. The woman dropped her fist from the plate glass door and turned to face him, her whole body sagging in defeat.
Woman? Hardly more than a girl. A wisp of a thing, but a fighter. He had to hold back a smile. Her hood fell back, and a cloud of red hair as fiery as her temper whipped around her head in the wind. She might have been gorgeous — if she hadn’t looked so exhausted.
What the hell was she doing out here after two a.m. — with a kid on her hip? She didn’t look much more than twenty. Any bartender worth his weight would have carded her. And the boy looked to be three or four. Didn’t she know that little man needed to be in bed asleep?
He moved closer, cautious, his hand near his hip. Trusting the woman as an innocent was the kind of mistake that got police officers killed. He got close enough to see the tears streaming down her face before he spoke. “Deputy Hunter, Sheriff’s department. Mind telling me why you were assaulting this building, ma’am, and at this time of night?”
“My car,” she sobbed. “They took my car.”
He blinked, trying to make sense of what she was saying. “Who took your car?”
“I don’t know. I just need someone to tell me where they took it to.”
“The folks from the Market had it towed? Did you leave it here overnight?”
“No!” She looked around. “I guess they could have thought I did, but Mel has an agreement with them. Or at least he always used to. Late shift parks over here under the lights at night. I filled out an application, but the market wasn’t hiring, so we walked across the street to Debbie’s, and the drive-thru clerk walked off the job just as I was applying, so Mel hired me on the spot, even though he didn’t want to, but he was in a bind and he didn’t have to train me. Then after mop-up we locked up and all I wanted was to go home and get Mika to bed and get some sleep but my car’s gone. And everything I own is in that car.”
He was a sheriff’s deputy, not a social worker. Or a rescuer of damsels in distress. Especially not redheaded banshees who attacked buildings in the middle of the night. But he had a weak spot when it came to redheads — and children. “You were living in the car?”
“No, we’re staying at the Country Inn Efficiencies, on the other side of town, but I don’t trust the place enough to leave anything there anymore, so everything was in the car. I’m such an idiot… I thought it was safer…”
The little boy raised a hand to her cheek. “Don’t cry, Momma. Everything’s going to be OK now. The policeman’s here. He’ll find Mr. Happy.”
Kaden bit his lip. “Mr. Happy? You named the car Mr. Happy?” That sounds more like the name of some kinky sex toy, not…
The little boy shook his head. “No, silly! Mr. Happy’s my pony. He’s in the car. The car’s name is Rollo.”
“Mr. Happy’s a pony… and Rollo…” Kaden rolled his tongue around the child’s nickname to translate. “Corolla?”
The visual was just too much. “Let me get this straight. We’re looking for a missing Toyota Corolla with a pony living in the back seat?”
“Yes!” the little boy agreed, bobbing his shaggy blond locks with a waterfall effect.
“No,” Momma answered at the same time, a trace of a smile washing across her tear stained face. “Well, not exactly. Mr. Happy is a stuffed pony. He’s lying down, with his legs all folded up, but he’s so big he takes up most of the back seat. Mika likes to sleep on him.”
And anything that would get a little boy to sleep… that Kaden understood. “OK, then. Tell you what. Let’s go down to the barracks, fill out some paperwork, and we’ll do our best to find Mr. Happy and his Corolla. Soon as we’re done with the paperwork, I’ll get you back to your hotel so you two can get some sleep while we look for them.”