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Yule be mine, p.1

Yule Be Mine, page 1

 

Yule Be Mine
 


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Yule Be Mine


  * * *

  Scheherazade Tales Romance E-Novels

  scheherazadetales.com

  Copyright ©2004 by Charlene Teglia

  * * *

  NOTICE: This work is copyrighted. It is licensed only for use by the original purchaser. Making copies of this work or distributing it to any unauthorized person by any means, including without limit email, floppy disk, file transfer, paper print out, or any other method constitutes a violation of International copyright law and subjects the violator to severe fines or imprisonment.

  * * *

  YULE BE MINE

  by

  Charlene Teglia

  Copyright 2004 Charlene Teglia

  Scheherazade Tales Romance E-Novels

  scheherazadetales.com

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information and storage retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.

  2004 Scheherazade Tales Romance E-Novels scheherazadetales.com

  YULE BE MINE

  Prologue

  Seymour Walters was the last straw.

  Jordan had put up with a lot from her brothers. She knew they meant well. She knew they loved her. She knew that deep down in their little misguided and deranged brains, they only wanted her to be happy.

  But looking at Seymour's sober face, beneath a thatch of hair no artist could give style to, set off by glasses that were definitely, actually taped together over the nose, Jordan realized with a chill of horror that it was never going to end. They would never stop trying to fix her up with “the perfect man."

  And their version of the perfect man was Jordan's version of perfect hell.

  First of all, if Seymour had ever laughed in his life, she was certain he would have apologized immediately. She made it a firm rule that any man she dated had to laugh at her jokes. Then there was his appearance. Jordan eyed him in sober silence and was unable to even comment internally. It was that bad.

  No, actually, it was worse—because if Jordan didn't do something, and fast, she'd be thrown together with Seymour or some other equally bad Disaster Date on every single hayride, skating party, dinner and dance of the holiday season.

  She pictured herself seated by Seymour through an endless meal. Even in her imagination, she couldn't eat. A mortician just didn't contribute sparkling small talk to dinner.

  And his compliments—she could hear them now. “You're looking lovely this evening. So lifelike. So natural."

  You're a creative person, Jordan, she screamed at herself. Last year you wrote two hundred different ways to say “Happy Birthday.” You need a plan. And make it good. Or Seymour will be by your side from Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve, and you'll have to kiss him.

  The greeting card writer shivered at the very thought, and Seymour noticed.

  "Got a chill?” He heaved a morose sigh. “Leona Watkins went like that. Pneumonia. That's how it starts. Before you know it, death comes knocking."

  Death was already knocking, Jordan thought wildly. Death was closing in and choking the life out of her.

  Well, not this year! It had to stop. And it was going to stop right now. Jordan was going to give her brothers exactly what they wanted, and gain a reprieve from the Grim Reaper.

  She was going to get engaged to “the perfect man."

  Chapter One

  Single man! Are you haunted by the ghost of Christmas past—terrifying attempts at holiday matchmaking? Frightened by the ghost of Christmas future—more yuletide yahoos? Then what the dickens are you waiting for? Give us both a Christmas present. Single woman seeks phony fiancé for family functions; will pose as yours in return.

  Jordan Christian reread her singles’ ad with a critical eye. Was it short, snappy and to the point? Did it communicate her needs clearly, but with a humorous tone that would make it appealing to a decent human being?

  She pushed her notepad back and dropped her pen on the lacquered surface of her antique roll top desk. Wanting some reassurance, she let her gaze wander over the wall. It held award certificates, the framed copy of her first check as a professional writer and an extremely flattering letter from an editor praising her skills. Jordan found the physical proof of her success and ability as a writer comforting whenever doubt crept in on a project.

  This was a project she really couldn't afford to mess up. If this ad didn't snare a sane, single and at least semi-attractive male between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five, Jordan was going to be in a lot of trouble. She was going to be toasting the New Year with Seymour the Undertaker under the watchful eyes of her four older brothers.

  It wasn't easy being the baby of the family. At twenty-six, she still wasn't free of fraternal harassment. True, her brothers—all considerably older—had shared in raising her after their parents were killed in a car accident, making them considerably more involved than most brothers. They'd been there for her through high school and sent her to college. They'd watched her graduate and taken her picture. They'd celebrated with her when she immediately got taken on as a writer for a greeting card company.

  And they'd shoved countless stuffed shirts at her, every single year. Christmas seemed to bring out the worst in them. They couldn't seem to stand seeing her without a man at her side through all the traditional family events.

  Jordan had tried reasoning with them. That didn't work. So she'd tried tears, tantrums and had even gone to the Bahamas one year to evade the matchmakers. She'd gotten sunburn and gained ten pounds eating all day on the cruise ship, and all for nothing, because they'd managed to get Mitchell onto the same ship and he'd followed her relentlessly.

  Mitchell was a dentist, and she was fairly certain he'd been Gary's idea. Gary was the oldest brother and the most determined to settle his baby sister down with a respectable, secure husband.

  But as annoying and self-centered—not to mention depressing—as Mitchell was, Seymour had him beat. He could drive a right-to-lifer to suicide. Especially if they had to listen to him talk through dinner.

  Jordan shuddered again and reread her ad. Well, it wasn't perfect, but she didn't have much time. If she got it in today, it would run in the weekend edition of the Singles’ Page, and with any kind of luck at all, she'd get some answers the following week.

  It stood to reason that somewhere some man was enduring the same difficulties she was, and all because he just hadn't met the right person yet. So they'd help each other out. It was a perfect plan. After the New Year, they'd simply drift apart and eventually end their mock “engagement."

  Jordan bounced to her feet and stretched, rolling her neck and shoulders to loosen the kinks produced by hunching over her desk. Maybe she should have requested a man who liked to give massages.

  No, she couldn't be that picky. She wasn't shopping for a real fiancé, just a good fake to fool her brothers with. As long as he didn't tape his eyewear together or talk about dentures, she'd take him.

  She ruffled her short blond spiky hair and picked up her ad. She'd already rented an anonymous postal box for replies. Now all she had to do was drop off her copy and pay for her ad to run.

  And sincerely hope for a good man. A good “single man".

  * * * *

  "Luke, I want you to meet Candy,” his sister Wendy gushed. She shoved the saccharine pink fluff-ball of ruffles towards Luke. He knew there had to be an eligible female in there somewhere. Why else would Wendy push her on him?

  The ruffl
es spoke in a sickening, simpering sweet voice. “I'm so pleased to meet you. I've heard so much about you.” Then she definitely—distinctly—tittered.

  "Have you?” Luke Foster's bland, merely rhetorical question was more a statement, neatly providing a response to Cotton Candy's verbal overture without encouraging further communication.

  Luke glared at his oldest sister Wendy, but she didn't seem to notice—probably because, having done her “duty", she'd artfully retreated and was now busily occupied serving canapés to another guest.

  These endless excuses to eat and drink and shove unwanted women at him that went on every year from November to January—he hated them. Wendy's little pre-holiday cocktail party was only the beginning. The Foster clan included two more siblings, parents, uncles, cousins and all their spouses and offspring, and they celebrated the holidays with a vengeance.

  And all those relatives couldn't bear to see their Luke peacefully alone, peacefully single. They suffered some sort of genetic compulsion to match up and marry off every member of the family.

  Luke eyed the pink ruffles in dread. It was already starting. He was a patient man, actually. An easy-going, even-tempered man. But even he could be pushed too far.

  He stared, steadily and silently, down at the pink ruffled confection with chilling disinterest. Luke squelched the chiding sound of his mother's voice in his head that urged him to be a gentleman in any situation. Damned if he'd encourage this unwelcome piece of fluff. Cotton Candy was Wendy's guest. Let Wendy entertain her.

  The ruffles twitched, twittered, and then seemed to wilt under his stolid indifference that bordered on the thin line of rudeness. A shrill sound emerged from the frothy dress. She squeaked out, “N-n-nice to meet you, I have to go,” and pulled back.

  Luke didn't even nod. His eyes silently encouraged her to do so, and quickly. Candy let out a faint sound of mingled offense and fright and melted into the crowd.

  Luke smiled, a smile of triumph and satisfaction which transformed his rough features into a warm, approachable face and lit his cold blue eyes with humor. He went from looking like a man to avoid in a dark, lonely place to looking like a man to seek out a dark, lonely place with.

  Luke Foster didn't have anything resembling classical features or Hollywood handsomeness. But he did have a rough, rugged appeal and chiseled muscles that declared him to be a man with a capital M. He'd found that the intimidating edge of danger he could affect at will produced results in the sometimes rough world of business.

  It was an illusion, actually. He was gentle by nature. But he had the face and build of a born fighter; and that, combined with his height and an air of reserve as a natural result of his quiet, reflective personality, added to the illusion of watchful readiness for trouble and the ability to handle any that was foolish enough to turn up. Luke was too prosaic not to use whatever natural advantages he had. His successful consulting business spoke for the wisdom of not fighting nature.

  Wendy frowned at him and Luke realized that she was going to come over and demand that he apologize to Cotton Candy.

  A wise man knew when to retreat.

  He blended into the crowd and made his way towards the door and freedom with a sense of desperation that was sheathed in outward calm and confidence. In truth, he knew he was in over his head. Every year the matchmaking went on, and every year it grew more insistent and more unpleasant.

  His family simply failed to understand that he had other concerns, other priorities. It had taken time to gain the experience to start his own business, and more years to firmly establish it. That kind of commitment meant long hours and short weekends and didn't leave the time, the energy or even the inclination to pursue a serious relationship. In time, he intended to select a suitable wife. But there was no hurry.

  "Leaving already? Heading back to the office?"

  The question made Luke pause. He recognized that voice.

  "It's what I would have been doing, too, twenty years ago,” the voice continued.

  "Jake Marlow,” said Luke, turning around. If it hadn't been for the voice, he wouldn't have recognized his old mentor.

  "Don't bother to tell me how I look,” Jake said. “I know how I look. I'm old, I'm tired, and I'm scheduled for another triple bypass."

  "I didn't know you had heart problems."

  "Heart problems.” Jake gave a wheezing laugh that held no trace of amusement. “You could say that. Let this be a warning to you, Luke. I put my heart into my business. Turns out it was a bad investment. You might think there's plenty of time for a personal life later, but later might turn out to be too late."

  The words, combined with the sight of what had become of the man who'd taught Luke everything he knew about succeeding in business, were distinctly unsettling.

  Jake shook his head and waved him on. “Go on. Go back to your business—but if I were you, I'd go find a life instead. And somebody to live it with. It isn't too late for you. Yet."

  Even old Bottom Line Jake Marlow had matchmaking on the brain? The holidays caused mass insanity. Yes. That was the only rational explanation.

  Luke reached the door. Freedom and sanity lay just beyond. He shrugged on his heavy wool overcoat but instead of his office he headed towards a nearby café. He'd get some coffee in peace and quiet. Wash away the sugary taste that just looking at Cotton Candy had left in his mouth. With grim sarcasm, he pitied the man who ended up with that bit of fluff. He hoped it would be a dentist.

  The college student waiting tables waved to him and told him to sit anywhere. Luke nodded brusquely, sat in a corner booth and asked for coffee. Somebody had left a newspaper on the table. Idly, Luke opened it and flipped through. It wasn't exactly a newspaper, he realized after a moment. It was a listing of singles ads.

  Here it was—solid evidence that he wasn't the only person who hadn't succumbed to marriage mania. Thirty-two wasn't too old to be single. Some of the ads were from people in their forties and fifties who'd never been married. Luke felt quietly gratified by that fact.

  He barely noticed when his coffee came. The ads were enthralling. Why hadn't he ever read them before? There was a big woman seeking big man for a whale of a good time. And Daisy seeking gardener with stamen-a.

  Then something different caught his eye.

  Single man! Are you haunted by the ghost of Christmas past—terrifying attempts at holiday matchmaking? Frightened by the ghost of Christmas future—more yuletide yahoos? Then what the dickens are you waiting for? Give us both a Christmas present. Single woman seeks phony fiancé for family functions; will pose as yours in return.

  Whoever had left that newspaper lying at his booth had circled that one in red, Luke noticed. The words reverberated in his head as he stirred his coffee and sipped the dark brew. Sounded like some poor woman was enduring the same fate. He wondered what the male equivalent of Cotton Candy was like. Something must have pushed her over the edge to resort to an ad like that.

  An intelligent woman, too. She knew Dickens, and probably not just from watching a Christmas movie. And she had a quirky sense of humor. She'd compared blind dates and surprise fix-ups to being haunted by phantoms.

  That revealed something else about her, Luke realized. She didn't mind being a single woman. She didn't want a ring. She wanted a co-conspirator to weather the holiday madness.

  Will pose as yours in return...

  Luke thought about it, and the more he did, the more it intrigued him. If he'd had her with him tonight, for instance, Candy wouldn't have gotten within a mile of him. Wendy wouldn't be perusing her guest list right now looking for another candidate to foist on him. Luke imagined the forthcoming round of manic holiday events, and the inevitable parade of pink-ruffled piranhas.

  He shuddered.

  Then he pictured himself with a poised, intelligent companion. She'd impress his siblings, parents and assorted partner-pushers. She'd drive away not only the sniveling sweet types but also the militant equal-partner business types who only wanted to use a
ring to further their careers or to get a foothold in his own company.

  The mystery woman was intelligent enough to out-do the former and devious enough, from her blatant proposal to perpetrate fraud, to deal with the latter. Luke drank his coffee and pondered.

  She intrigued him, whoever she was. He thought she would likely be able to handle the thankless task of fending off his family.

  The waiter returned with a full coffee pot, and Luke caught his eye. “Do you have a pen and some paper I could borrow?"

  The waiter looked at the singles ads and smirked knowingly. “Certainly.” He left a pad and pen for Luke after refilling his coffee cup.

  Now ... how to respond to something like that? It would take some thought. He wanted his message to stand out amongst the replies she'd get to her ad. If she didn't agree to be his fake fiancée, some other man would get a free ride through the holidays with no pressure to settle down. And Luke would be up against the wall—alone.

  Okay. Presumably, she'd be impressed by a literary reply. Luke continued to think, wrote briefly, scratched out and rewrote. Finally satisfied, he read back over the result and nodded to himself. He tore the ad out and folded it with his answer. He'd mail it to her post office box tomorrow.

  And hope that there really was a Santa Claus after all.

  * * * *

  After waving to the postman out front, Jordan fitted the key into her box. She hoped it wasn't too soon to expect a response to her ad. Thanksgiving was only a few days away and the holiday madness was underway. She didn't have much time.

  Fretting when the key stuck, she practically danced around the box until she had it open and peered inside hopefully. The slot bulged with envelopes.

  Bonanza! She'd struck it big!

  With a quick glance to make sure she wasn't noticed, Jordan scooped the mail into her oversized bag and zoomed back home.

  The bag was upended on her desk and Jordan rummaged through the clutter of pens, lipsticks, business cards and other odds and ends for the all-important envelopes.

 
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