BLURB: Frankie Faraday is a promising young salesperson at Mason’s Emporium. Bill Mason is his boss, the son of the store’s founder, and the object of Frankie’s long-suffering, deeply devoted crush. Bill is steady and sober; Frankie is frivolous and flaky. Or so they seem to each other, until the night of the annual inventory, when they’re trapped together in the Seasonal Gifts storeroom, with nothing but candy and peppermint schnapps to sustain them until they’re rescued. And then the real truths—and something definitely more intimate—emerge!
For the record, I don’t know how it happened—you know, how Frankie ended up sitting close to me on the packing case with his head virtually resting on my shoulder. There are several other packing cases he could have used.
Not that I’ve raised any complaint. He wriggles too much, but the pressure from his leg against my thigh, the soft brush of those fresh-smelling curls against my cheek, the brief gusts of breath on my neck when he turns his head….
No. No complaint. Maybe I’m already going stir-crazy.
“We should look for something to help us,” he says suddenly, jumping up so quickly the case rocks. “What’s in all the boxes? Not just baubles?”
“No. Um. There are other seasonal gifts. Candies. Chocolate. Toys.”
“Uh-huh.” Frankie’s rummaging through some of the boxes. “Food, that’s good. Though we should continue to hammer on the door every hour or so, in case someone comes by. We can’t afford to be left here overnight. The supplies may run out.”
“Supplies?” Overnight? I realize I have no idea how long we’ve been here so far. No clock, no cell phone, no concept of time passing. Should I have been logging the minutes with scratches on the wall?
“Are you panicking again?” he asks, a hand on my arm. “Look what I’ve found.”
I know it’s just a distraction technique, but I feel absurdly grateful. He has an open box of crispy chocolate Santas, and he’s shredding the paper off them like he’s stripping the whole cast of Magic Mike Live.
“Frankie, are you eating the stock?”
His words are mumbled around a Santa’s head. “Well, I don’t know about you and your fancy expense-account meals, Mr. Mason, but I’m starving. And I’d rather eat these than starve to death in a moldy old storeroom.”
“Starve to death?” I said he was melodramatic, didn’t I?
He gives one of those graceful shrugs but quickly drops his gaze to another box. “Oh my God, look what else is here!”
“The Healthier Living gingerbread house,” I read. There’s a huge box full of them between the baubles and the opened box of Santas.
“You know that range was never gonna sell, don’t you?” he says as he unwraps one.
He holds it up with fingertips, his pert little nose screwed up as if it’s something gruesome from a local dumpster. “That dull, muddy shade of cookie dough? Without any colored button sweets or marshmallow frosting? What fool thought that would attract customers at this time of year?”
Silence for an awkward second, probably as he realizes what he’s said.
“Me,” I say. “That fool would be me.”
“Oops. My big mouth again.”
“Inventory is a tricky system to get right,” I admit grudgingly. “Especially on stocking stuffers.”
“Heavens, yes. Finding goodies to stuff—” He pauses for a millisecond, a too-innocent gaze on me. “—into a stocking can so often be tricky.” And then he outright giggles.
Yes. Giggles. But this time I find I’m laughing in return. I don’t have to worry about disciplining an insolent employee: he isn’t criticizing or mocking me. And let’s face it, that innuendo came from me to start with.
Odd… but what a relief.
“Made you laugh,” he says, a little slyly.
“Yeah. Haven’t done that for a while.”
He nods. “It’s a stressful time of year. I get that.”
We’re quiet for a moment, but it’s comfortable. Frankie’s finishing off his third, maybe fourth, Santa as he shifts another couple of boxes from the stack behind. He gulps, and Santa’s chocolate boots vanish inside him.
I can’t stop staring. There’s a smear of chocolate on Frankie’s mouth. In the corner. Just in that little crease under his top lip….
“You want one?” he asks softly. His eyes are on mine. He must have seen me staring. “Um. A Santa, I mean?”
I clear my throat before answering. “What other options do I have?”
And didn’t that come out ambiguous.