Hanukkah Hearts, page 1
Jean C. Joachim
Table of Contents
Books by Jean C. Joachim
Excerpt from | Unpredictable Love | Chapter One
To David and Steve, who always enjoyed the Hanukkah celebration.
Thank you to my editors, Laura, and my proofreader, Renee Waring. A special “thank you” to Vicki Locey, and Roz Lee whose encouragement keeps me on track. Thank you to Roz for suggesting the idea of the Hanukkah Elf. Thank you to the Joachim men, Larry, David & Steve, and the newest member of our family, Pam, for keeping me grounded and believing in me.
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Copyright © 2019 Jean C. Joachim
Edited by Laura Garland+
Proofreader: Renee Waring
Cover design – Dawne Dominique, Dusk to Dawn designs
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission. All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
Pushing against the winterish wind as she walked toward the Hudson River, Becky Cohen sniffed the sweet aroma of a wood fire. The scent cut through the frigid December air, reminding her of home. The memory of sitting in front of the fireplace with her family at Hanukkah flashed through her mind. She sighed. Yeah, but not this year. Hanukkah didn’t coincide with Christmas on the calendar, so she didn’t have time off. She had a ticket to fly back to Milwaukee when the office closed for the holiday.
The bitter cold stung Becky’s face as she trudged along 92nd street toward her apartment building. She bowed her head and pulled her wool scarf tighter. The icy air sliced through her clothing, penetrating straight to the bone. The wind off Riverside Drive, more wicked than anything she’d experienced in Milwaukee, howled around her.
Anxious to get back to the small two-bedroom apartment she shared with three other young women, she quickened her steps. Shutting her eyes for a second, she couldn’t wipe away the humiliating episode that had occurred moments before.
As she made her way home, she shuddered at the recollection of being caught in tears by the hunky Assistant Production Manager, Sam Golden. At six o’clock, she’d thought everyone had left, so she took a moment to Skype her family on her phone, to share a bit of the first night of Hanukkah via the Internet.
Her brothers, David and Joe, had answered. She’d never forget David’s words.
“Hey, Squirt. Listen, Mom took a turn for the worse. Dad took her to the hospital. Hanukkah’s been cancelled.”
She didn’t remember the rest of their conversation. Her mind had blanked after the word “hospital.” David didn’t have any new details about their mother. Myra Cohen had contracted a bad case of the flu, which turned into pneumonia. Maybe the antibiotic wasn’t working or something? Becky couldn’t remember because she’d gone straight to panic mode. She’d gotten off quickly and burst into tears. Sobbing into a lone tissue she’d fished from her desk drawer, she started when a deep voice said, “Here.” A hand bearing a clean, white handkerchief came into view.
She raised her wet gaze to meet Sam Golden’s. His gorgeous green eyes held concern.
She shook her head, trying to pull herself together enough to talk. “No boyfriend. My mother.”
“Mother problems?” He raised his eyebrows. “At this age?”
“Sick. She’s sick. They’ve taken her to the hospital.”
“Oh, geez. Crap. I’m sorry.” He sank down into the chair next to her desk.
She took his offering and hid her face behind it, muttering, “Thank you.”
“And on the first night of Hanukkah, too.” He shook his head.
“Hanukkah’s been cancelled,” she said, her words muffled by the cloth.
“Cancelled? I didn’t know you could cancel Hanukkah. I’d better call my family.” He started to rise.
Despite herself, Becky smiled and put her hand on his arm. “Just for my family.”
“I’m sorry. That’s so sad.”
Fresh tears welled up. “I’d better go.” She pushed to her feet. Upon standing, Becky lost her balance. Sam rose, grabbed her, and held her.
“Thank you,” she mumbled, her mind muddled, her pulse racing.
His tender embrace unleashed new emotions in her. Unable to stop herself, she cried on his shoulder. He tightened his grip with one arm and stroked her back with his free hand.
“I bet she’s gonna be okay.”
His warm, reassuring words, and strength soothed her. Her eyes drifted shut. How many times had she dreamt of being in Sam Golden’s arms? A hundred? A thousand? Maybe, okay, definitely, but never like this. Her mom’s favorite expression echoed in her head. “Get a grip, girl.” A few deep breaths helped her regain control and she stepped back.
She wiped her face with his hanky, then gazed up. “I’ll wash this and return it.”
He waved it away. “Keep it. I have dozens. Probably gonna get more for Hanukkah, too.”
She managed a small smile, then tucked his gift into her bag.
“It’s late. Let me put you in a cab.”
“The subway. I’m saving money to go home at the holiday.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll walk you.”
Together they donned winter coats, scarves, hats, and gloves to brave the brutish December weather.
Becky approached her townhouse-sized apartment building and recalled Sam’s kindness. She’d had such a crush on him from the day she started at Homes and Ralph Publishing a year ago.
He stood six feet tall with brown hair and green eyes. Narrow at the waist, he had wide shoulders and a dazzling grin. The second their gazes connected her heart flipped. The heat of his stare penetrated places best ignored during the workday.
Sam was an important manager and rumored to be dating Maryann Donnelley, her boss. That and the fact she was only an editorial assistant put him off-limits. Still, she could dream, right? Sam and Maryann went out to lunch every other week. Occasionally, after hours, he’d disappear into her office and close the door. She wondered what went on in there but had no way to satisfy her curios
At twenty-eight, Becky wasn’t some naïve schoolgirl. Or a virgin, either. In fact, her shiny, dark hair, deep chocolate eyes, and curvy figure had attracted boys since sophomore year in high school. She’d had a different boyfriend every year in college, too.
Against her father’s wishes, Becky had moved to New York. The noise, the crowds, and the pulse of the City overwhelmed her, though she’d never admit it.
“Why can’t you stay here? You have a good job at the Daily Sentinel. New York is expensive and dangerous. You’re dating a nice boy, get married. You can move out then.”
“I’m not staying here, Dad. Even if I don’t leave Milwaukee, I’m getting my own apartment.”
“Why? Save money. Live at home.”
She snorted. “Yeah, right. I’m twenty-seven. It’s way past time.”
“If you go to New York, don’t come crying to me for airfare to come home when you get homesick. If you’re so damn independent, pay for it yourself. In fact, pay for everything yourself. I’m done.”
And he’d huffed off, slamming the front door behind him. His lack of support had rattled her. But, after a day or two, her resolve hardened, and she made plans to move to the Big Apple.
A headhunter set her up with several job interviews and Becky had nailed the best one. She landed the job as admin assistant to two acquisitions editors at Homes and Ralph Publishing. She hoped to become an acquisitions editor herself someday. When she was hired at H and P, she’d taken the first step toward living her dream.
Finding a place to live had been a challenge. Once she’d closed the deal on an apartment share, she’d taken her savings, shipped her stuff, and hopped on a plane. Becky had lucked out with her three roommates. While not becoming her best friends, they had a live-and-let-live attitude. After a few months of adjustment, they settled into peaceful co-existence. They went their way and she went hers.
On Friday nights, anyone left dateless chipped in for a pizza or Chinese food. They ate together and watched a movie. Becky had spent far too many Friday nights in the apartment. Often, she wondered what delicious meal her mother was creating for their family Shabbos dinner.
After heading to bakery after bakery, Becky finally found one that still had one loaf of fresh Challah left on a Friday night after work. But without her family, or even Jewish friends to light a candle, say the prayers and share the loaf, it didn’t mean much.
Monday was the first night of Hanukkah. After searching store-after-store, Becky had lucked out at Zabar’s finding an affordable, tiny menorah, and candles that fit. She’d called her brother.
“So, you’re not gonna be here for Hanukkah. We can Skype,” Joe had said.
“I don’t know how to Skype on my computer.”
“It’s the same as the phone. I’ll walk you through it.”
“We could light the lights together then?”
When she reached the front door, Becky shook the dusting of snow off her shoulders, and entered the warmth of the lobby. After climbing two flights, she unlocked the door. The three women who shared her digs were gobbling down chicken lo mein and watching a movie. They acknowledged her presence for a moment to tell her about the food.
Becky hung up her coat, filled a bowl and went to her room. With her little menorah perched proudly on the windowsill, she could watch the candles burn from her bed. She struck a match and recited the prayers. A lump of emotion closed her throat as loneliness seeped into her bones. No family, no gifts, no laughter. She stared at the bowl of noodles which was no substitute for latkes with home-made applesauce, and her mother’s brisket. She sighed and dug into her paltry meal.
Her mind wandered back to the crazy gag gifts she’d exchanged with her family over the years. A chef’s apron for her father who never cooked, a Slinky for her older brother, a subscription to Mad Magazine for her mother! Every day, they’d draw a name and give a present to the person on the next night.
Scrambling through crowded stores, searching for just the right gift at the last minute had been a challenge. Maybe their method had been a bit nuts, but humor reigned, bringing the most precious gifts of all; laughter, joy, and love.
When she finished eating, Becky picked up a romance novel and dove into it. She needed to forget her embarrassing encounter with Sam, not to mention the fact her mother may be seriously ill with Becky over eight hundred miles away.
AFTER A DEPRESSING first night of Hanukkah, Becky overslept. She dragged herself into work fifteen minutes late. A package sat on her desk. Damn, that hadn’t been there the day before. She didn’t know whether to open it or call security. The rectangular box, wrapped in blue and white paper with a blue ribbon and a big bow, intrigued her.
“Open it, please. Open it,” pleaded her friend and fellow admin assistant, Joy.
“Come on. We’ve been staring at it for the last fifteen minutes,” added Bridget.
“What if it’s a bomb? Will you sweep up my body parts and ship them to my parents?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Joy snapped.
When Becky picked up the package, a card fell out. It read: Happy Hanukkah, from the Hanukkah Elf.
“The Hanukkah Elf? What Hanukkah Elf?” Becky asked.
“The Hanukkah Elf? How cool! Is there such a thing?” Joy asked.
“Not as far as I know. This is weird.” Becky shook her head.
“What’s this?” Sam Golden wandered over. Becky sensed heat in her cheeks at facing him. But he made no mention of the night before. He probably wanted to forget her embarrassing display of emotion as much as she did.
“Someone left this on my desk. I don’t know whether to open it or call the bomb squad.”
Sam picked up the box and shook it. The young women jumped back.
“Don’t!” Becky shrieked.
“Seems okay to me,” he said. “Go on. Open it.”
Slowly, Becky peeled off the tape and the paper. Inside were candies made of caramel, pecan, and chocolate in the shape of turtles.
“Who sent it?” Joy asked.
“I don’t know,” Becky replied.
“The Hanukkah Elf!” Bridget laughed.
“Ooh, I love it! A secret admirer.” Joy clasped her hands together in front of her chest and sighed.
“He must know I like to feed the turtles in Central Park.” Becky offered the sweets to her friends. Sam raised his hand.
“Turtles,” Becky mused, biting into a piece.
After wiping the chocolate off her hands, Becky turned on her computer and opened her email. A month ago, she’d been promoted to senior administrative assistant at Homes and Ralph Publishing. Now her inbox overflowed with assignments and requests from additional acquisitions editors. Becky discovered two new manuscripts waiting for her to read and evaluate.
She set about her work, taking only one coffee break. The machine was empty, so she loaded it up and hit “brew”. While she waited, she peeked into Sam’s office. He had his door open and held the phone to his ear.
Sam had sexy hair that flopped over his forehead like the actor, Adrian Brody. She longed to comb it back with her fingers. As the aroma of the java wafted her way, she sighed. Being management and dating an editor put Sam in the “hands-off” category.
She didn’t like her boss, Maryann Donnelley. Recalling Maryann’s recent overblown announcement about her vacation plans to the staff, Becky shifted in her seat.
“I’m going skiing before the holiday. Staying at Evan Watson’s place. You know, Evan, the movie director who won the Oscar last year?”
The support staff made fun of Maryann’s incessant name-dropping behind her back. In the company cafeteria downstairs, Becky had entertained her friends with an imitation.
“Well, I’m going skiing in Switzerland on the best Alp in the world. And I’m staying at God’s house. You know the biggest chalet in the country in the world! If I play my cards right, I might just give birth to a
Her friends cracked up. When she looked up and saw Sam watching, she lowered her voice. He shook his head briefly but shot her a smile as he headed for the elevator. She had wanted to die. He’d heard the whole thing. Mortified she’d made fun of his girlfriend, she’d avoided him for a week, until his charisma drew her like iron to a magnet.
When the coffeemaker finished, she poured herself a cup and raised the pot where Sam could see it. Still on the phone, he nodded and held up his mug. She strolled over and filled it, then returned to the machine. Waiting for her was Trevor Gorman, best-selling author of detective stories and every woman’s orgasmic dream—except hers.
“How about a refill for me?” He crept up behind her. She complied, then set down the pot. “Don’t go. Free for lunch?” He stepped closer invading Becky’s space. She moved away. His obvious attempts to get her into bed made her skin crawl.
“Can’t today. Sorry. On bad weather days, I bring my lunch.” Becky grabbed her coffee and made a beeline for her desk. Not one to give up the chase easily, Trevor ambled over. He leaned against it and chattered to her about himself.
“I’m sorry, but if I don’t get this letter done, I’ll get yelled at. Please excuse me, Trevor, but I have to work.”
“Sure, sure. I get it. Don’t want to get you fired or anything. How’d you like that little Hanukkah gift?” Becky’s head snapped up. Could Trevor be the Hanukkah Elf? She bit her lip. Trevor, the Adonis in love with himself, wouldn’t give a gift to a lowly admin assistant, would he?
Homes and Ralph had a spare office set up for their best-selling authors to use. This month, Trevor held the key. He ambled back inside, grinned at her, and shut the door.
Joy leaned over the partition between their cubicles. “Maybe he’s the Hanukkah Elf?”
“God forbid.” Becky turned her attention back to her work. But the idea stayed with her.
Shortly before noon, she glanced out the window at the snow falling gently, muffling the sounds of the city, and grinned. Sam always ate in the cafeteria on bad weather days. Rain, snow, and sleet kept him from business lunches. At twelve sharp, Becky retrieved her brown bag from the refrigerator and headed downstairs. She managed to get there five minutes before he showed up.
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