Santa, baby, give it to me—please! Or at least give me a cutie to cuddle up with and keep me warm!
Christmas. It’s supposed to be a joyous occasion. And yet, for so many people, instead of being the “most wonderful time of the year,” it’s the most stressful.
And now I know why.
For the last twenty-eight years, I’ve been doing Christmas all wrong.
I was one of those people who ran around like a nut trying to find the right item for everyone on my list. No matter what gift I found, I kept going from mall to mall and store to store in the hopes of finding the perfect present that would make someone happy.
I was the typical crazed Christmas shopper. I got up at five o’clock in the morning just so I could drive to the “early-bird” special sales. I battled crowds of people in aisles filled with half-priced Christmas decorations. I rushed through the department stores with my arms loaded down with overflowing shopping bags. I was so obsessed that I dug through bins of wrapping paper and Christmas ribbons to find something that would appeal to everyone. I actually found myself standing in a store debating whether or not Aunt Judy would like her gift any better if it was wrapped in snowman paper.
I was out of control and hopelessly caught up in the holiday frenzy. Little did I know that all that would change the moment Spencer came crashing into my life.
My office was taking part in an annual toy drive for underprivileged children, and I had decided to stop off at the mall on my way home from work. It was just a few days before Christmas and I had a thousand other things on my mind. I was inwardly chastising myself for stopping at the mall after work instead of running out to buy a gift on my lunch hour. I told myself that I should have gone home and finished writing out my last-minute Christmas cards. I had a stack of presents that still needed to be wrapped. I was supposed to make sugar cookies and gingerbread men to bring into work next week.
I hurried through the store and headed straight for the toy department. This should be easy, I reasoned. All I needed to do was find a present for a little boy. How hard could that be? Given my manic state, I figured that I’d be finished in ten minutes. But fate and the toy manufacturers had conspired against me.
I turned the corner and stopped dead in my tracks. I stared up at the rows and rows of toys filling the aisle. How on earth would I be able to pick out something from all of this?
I stared down the aisle filled with rows of games and shook my head. How could I choose just one toy? There were so many options. I looked up at the puzzles, board games, action figures, and building block kits. It was certainly going to take a lot longer than ten minutes. With a sigh, I reached into my purse and pulled out the boy’s letter to Santa.
I glanced down and read the sheet of paper. Josh was a physically challenged ten-year-old boy, and his letter to Santa said that he’d be happy with anything fun. Anything fun? That left a lot of possibilities. I stepped toward a wall of action figures and frowned. Would one of those be appropriate?
I bent down at the end of the aisle and studied a display of games. “Maybe a board game would be better,” I muttered to myself. All of a sudden, another shopper came around the corner and bumped into me. I yelped as I fell backward and landed flat on my behind.
That was all I needed. My already-frazzled nerves went into overdrive, and my temper flared. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Of all the rude—”
“I’m so sorry! Are you okay?” a deep voice rumbled. “I didn’t see you there.”
Something about the man’s voice sent a shiver up my spine. I opened my eyes. My anger melted away as I stared up into the gorgeous features of a worried-looking man wearing a beautiful sweater. His eyes pleaded with me for a sign of forgiveness.
My heart skipped a beat as our gazes locked for a few seconds. How could I be mad at him? I flashed him my best smile. “Don’t worry. I’m fine.”
He extended his wide hand to me, and I noticed that he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. “I’m really sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going. I usually don’t trample pretty women,” he told me as he gave me an apologetic look.
My skin tingled as I placed my palm in his. Was I dreaming? Had he just called me “pretty?” The tall stranger pulled me to my feet effortlessly, and my heart fluttered.
“It’s okay. I’m fine,” I muttered as I was lost in his mesmerizing gaze. After several seconds, he released my hand. I shook my head and swallowed hard. Was it suddenly warm in the store, or had crashing into that dreamboat raised my temperature several degrees?
“I guess it’s really my fault that you didn’t see me,” I said. I tucked a lock of hair behind my ear and smoothed my short skirt. “I was bent down at the end of the aisle. I’m trying to pick out a present.”
“‘Tis the season, I guess.” He chuckled.
I grinned and glanced down. Of all the people in the world to bump into me, fate had been kind enough to deliver me an incredibly attractive stranger. I spotted a piece of paper lying on the floor and picked it up It read, “Girl, Age 9-12.” I turned to the man. ‘I think this is yours.”
He took the paper from my hand. “Thanks. My office is having a toy drive, and I’m trying to find a present for a little girl.” He shrugged his broad shoulders. “It really would have been easier if I had chosen a boy. My nephew is nine, and I never have a problem shopping for him.”
“Really? I’m playing Santa, too. I’m looking for a present for a ten-year-old boy.” I shrugged my shoulders. “But I’m out of my league here. Look at all this stuff!” I gestured around the toy aisle and inched a little closer to the man “There are action figures, board games, robots, model kits, and who knows what else. I have no idea what to buy.”
“I understand, believe me. I’m not much of a shopper. I decided to sneak out and get the present now. I can’t stand to be in crowded stores at this time of year,” he said.
It was an encouraging sign that such a gorgeous man was striking up a conversation, but was he just being polite, or did he have an interest in me? I wasn’t really sure, because it had been more than a year since I’d been romantically involved with anyone.
My friends and coworkers had set me up on blind dates with their friends and relatives, and nothing had clicked. I halfheartedly blamed myself. More than one friend had called me a “stick-in-the-mud” when it came to men. I always took things slow and wouldn’t even consider anything as daring as a one-night stand.
Instead of moping about my lack of male company, I constantly kept myself busy by visiting friends, volunteering, and doing whatever I could to fill up my free time.
Up until now, I had been content to let fate take its course, but with the holidays coming up, it did leave me feeling a little lonely. Christmas was right around the corner, and I’d been a very good girl all year. Why couldn’t Santa leave Mr. Right under my Christmas tree?
“I know what it’s like,” I replied. “I’m always running around like a madwoman.” I shook my head and let out a long sigh. “I’ll be glad when Christmas is over and all this is behind me for another year. This is just too much work.” I shrugged. “Every year it gets worse and worse.”
He frowned and stepped closer to me. “It’s not supposed to. Holidays should be fun, not hectic.”
I stared up at him and inhaled deeply. My newfound friend was wearing delicious, spicy cologne. The sexy scent invited me to get closer. My skin tingled as I “accidentally” brushed against his shoulder. “You mean, you’re not stressed out like the rest of the world?”
“Nope.” He smirked. “Not a bit.”
I looked up at him, puzzled. “Why not? Everyone else is.”
“About three years ago, I decided to change my whole perspective.” He glanced down and closed his eyes for a second. “It’s a long story.”
Something about the tone of his voice stilled my need to hurry. Whoever this cute man was, he had a quiet and serene aura about him. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel like I wanted to rush through the toy aisle and dash home.
I thought for a moment and decided to go out on a limb. What did I have to lose by spending some time talking to this mystery man? Besides, I reasoned, you never knew what could be waiting around the corner.
“Do you think you could spare some time and help me pick out a present? Maybe you can give me a few suggestions?” I gave him a hopeful smile.
“Definitely.” He nodded, and I noticed that his gaze roved up my legs. “I have a lot of ideas, about a lot of things. By the way, my name’s Spencer.”
“I’m Jenny. I’m glad we bumped into each other.” I laughed. “As much as I like donating gifts to charities and helping out at this time of year, I’m lost when it comes to shopping for kids.”
“I understand,” Spencer replied. “Come on, let’s take a look around and see what’s here.”
I walked next to Spencer as he strode down the toy aisle. Although I knew that I should hurry and get home if I wanted to accomplish everything on my list, I didn’t want to leave his side. Sure, I could have grabbed the first appropriate toy I saw and rushed home. And, maybe if I hadn’t bumped into Spencer, I would have. But I sensed that there was something different about him.
Spencer stopped in front of a row of toys. “This is what you need.” He reached around me and took a large, plastic building block set off the shelf.
“These are pretty popular with any boy. You can make anything with these—castles, towns, and even space stations.” He chuckled. “My nephew loves them. He leaves the blocks around the house and the cat likes to knock them under the couch.”
I giggled. “That sounds like it’s as much fun for the cat as it is for your nephew.” Spencer’s dazzling eyes sparkled as he laughed.
I took the box from Spencer and our fingers touched. My pulse flared, and a flash of heat coursed through my lower body. I looked down and licked my lips. My throat seemed to have gone dry. Was Spencer feeling the same attraction that I was?
For a brief moment, I entertained the fantasy of taking Spencer by the hand and leading him into the lingerie department to see what he liked there. Somehow, I didn’t think his tastes would be quite so innocent. I envisioned giving him a private “modeling session” in a secluded dressing room.
After a few seconds, I broke from my wicked thoughts and found my voice. “Thanks. This is great. I think the boy will like this. You’ve been a big help.”
“I’m glad.” He arched an eyebrow. “Now, can you return the favor? I need an idea of what would be appropriate for the girl.”
“Sure. I don’t have any nieces, but I used to baby-sit for my neighbor’s daughter. She was nine, and she liked arts and crafts. I think that’s your best bet.”
Spencer nodded. “I trust your judgment. Let’s see if we can pick out something fun.”
We turned the corner and walked down the next aisle. “How about a beaded jewelry set?” I reached up and took a colorful jewelry-making set off the third shelf. I turned and bumped into Spencer. “She can make all kinds of—”
My words froze on my lips. Spencer was standing so close that I expected him to kiss me. My heart pounded wildly as a searing heat built between us.
I tried to control my heaving breathing, but all I could smell was Spencer’s manly cologne. I looked into his eyes, utterly lost to these newfound and incredibly wanton feelings of desire coursing through me. “You don’t like this idea?”
He stared into my eyes. “Oh, no, it’s not that. The present’s fine. But I was just wondering—” He paused and licked his lips. “Do you have any more shopping to do?”
“No.” I shook my head.
“Did you have any dinner yet?”
My pulse flared. Was he going to ask me out? I couldn’t believe my luck. “Well, no, actually, I didn’t,” I answered. “I came straight here after work. I was just going to grab something to eat at the food court.”
“Instead of doing that—” Spencer took the present from my hands. “—if you have the time, how would you like to join me for dinner at the seafood restaurant next to the mall? I’d really like to get to know you better.”
My body surged. Have the time? I’d certainly make the time for him. “I’d love to,” I answered.
I looked across the table at Spencer and sipped my wine. The candlelight at our intimate table for two made his eyes sparkle.
Running into Spencer hadn’t been part of my plan, but it certainly was a wonderful surprise. I leaned back in the booth and sighed. Dinner had been fantastic. For the first time in weeks, I felt relaxed. I looked at him.
“So, what’s your secret to remaining so calm amid all the Christmas chaos?”
“I live life to the fullest. Everything’s about timing,” Spencer answered.
I wasn’t sure what he meant. “Can you explain that?”
He nodded. “Let me guess. You’re one of those people who exhaust yourself every year by buying presents for people because you ‘should,’ and you break your neck trying to fulfill all kinds of social obligations, right? You accept every invitation you get, and ‘have to’ send a Christmas card to everyone you’ve ever known.”
I giggled. “Yes, as a matter of fact, that’s exactly right. I’m supposed to be going to my coworker’s holiday party tomorrow night, and I still have to wrap her present.” I checked my watch. It was almost nine o’clock. Even though Spencer and I had spent hours getting to know each other, the time had flown by.
“You know the phrase, ‘It’s better to give than to receive?’ Well, it’s a noble thought, but it’ll wipe you out faster than anything.” He shook his head.
I scowled. Up until a few seconds ago, everything had been perfect. But now, Spencer’s attitude bothered me. Where was his Christmas spirit? Was he cheap, or didn’t he like Christmas?
“Are you a grinch?” I teased
“Nope. Just practical. I realized that too many people do things because they ‘should’ and ‘have to’ and not out of a genuine feeling of ‘want to.’”
“But what about your friends and family? How do you get around Christmas with them? Don’t you buy them gifts?”
“Gifts.” He frowned. “It’s not about presents. Everyone I know has too much stuff as it is. Why add to it?”
I furrowed my brows. “So you don’t—”
“A gift doesn’t have to come in a box. It can be anything. I wallpapered my aunt’s living room as her present last Christmas. Each year, I cook my family a big Christmas dinner and we celebrate being together. I think the best gift is taking the time to be with the important people in your life and those you care about.”
Spencer stared into his wineglass and cleared his throat. “My sister was diagnosed with cancer a few years back. Melanie was like you, always rushing around doing everything for everyone else. She never took time out for the little things.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and glanced at Spencer. I hadn’t expected to hear something like that. I was at a loss for words, so I let him talk.
“I was with her a lot toward the end, and one day I asked her if she wanted anything.” Spencer finished his wine. “She said she wanted to get back all the time that she had wasted making lists and fretting over the little things, things that didn’t seem to matter anymore.”
He looked into my eyes. “Life’s too short to be pulled in too many directions, and not to take time for what’s important. That’s how I avoid all this Christmas nonsense. Nobody’s really going to care if your ribbons are color-coordinated with your wrapping paper. It all just gets tossed out, anyway.”
Spencer put down his wineglass. “Tell me, honestly, are you close friends with that coworker who’s having the party tomorrow?”
I looked down. “No. Not really. But she invited everyone in the office, and—”
“And you’re old enough to refuse the invitation. How personal can this party be if she invited everyone?”
I shook my head. “Not very.”
“So ditch it.” Spencer reached across the table and stroked the back of my hand with his fingers. “When was the last time you did something for yourself?”
I thought about that for a minute. Since the first week of November, I’d been busy shopping, baking, rushing to and from work, and making endless lists of chores and errands that had to be done. I looked around the restaurant and saw content-looking couples chatting everywhere. “Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I had a calm and leisurely evening like this,” I admitted.
“See?” Spencer squeezed my hand. His touch sent a jolt of electricity through me. “You deserve some time for you. The best gift we have on earth is time. Use it wisely, because it’s precious. Throw out your lists of what you ‘have’ to do and live for the now. Be spontaneous,” he said.
I caught the twinkle in his eye. Even though I had just met Spencer, I wanted to be very spontaneous with him, all night long. He was sexy, he smelled great, and parts of my body longed for some much-needed male companionship. I grinned. What did he have in mind?
“What are your plans for tomorrow?” he asked.
“Well, I should finish wrapping the presents for—” I stopped myself and looked into his eyes. “I’m open to any and all suggestions.”
“Good.” He chuckled. “I’ll pick you up at one o’clock.”
I finally got home at ten o’clock that night. I walked through my apartment and stared at the stacks of presents and piles of Christmas cards. No wonder I felt overwhelmed all the time. Did I really need to do all this? For what?
I realized that I was overcompensating to fill the void I had inside of me. If I kept myself busy, I wouldn’t feel the loneliness I harbored inside. Going out with Spencer had made me realize that I’d been living my life for other people for too long. I was losing my identity. When was the last time I had refused someone without feeling guilty?
I realized that Spencer was right. I streamlined. I sat down at the dining room table and sorted through the cards and gifts. Did I need to send a Christmas card to my brother’s girlfriend’s parents? I had only met them once. Was it worth getting up early and fighting the crowd at the post office to mail a set of candleholders to my cousin in Florida? The last time I saw her was three years ago. I put the gift in a pile to be returned to the store. Maybe I would buy myself something with the extra cash. After all, I deserved it.
Spencer arrived at my apartment a little after one o’clock. He wore a thick, heavy sweater that made his eyes sparkle. He looked even more handsome than I remembered from last night. “Did you get all your presents wrapped?” he asked as we walked toward his truck.
“Nope,” I answered as I climbed into the truck. “I returned about three-quarters of them at the mall this morning.”
He laughed. “Good for you! How did it make you feel?”
“Extremely liberated. I spent most of the night thinking about you, and everything you said,” I added. “I even bought myself a few presents with the money I got back.”
“I’m really glad to hear that.” He winked and handed me a thermos filled with hot coffee.
“What’s the thermos for?” I asked.
“We’ll need it where we’re going.”
“And I suppose you won’t tell me where that is, will you?” I teased.
“Of course not. That wouldn’t be spontaneous.”
We drove out of town to a state park. I was surprised to find that it stayed open in the winter. Spencer parked the truck at the base of a hiking trail and clasped my hand as we started our adventure.
It was a fantastic day. The trail was deserted and it seemed like we had the whole mountain to ourselves. We strolled under the snow-covered pines and shared stories about our lives. Even though I had only met Spencer yesterday, it seemed like we’d known each other for years.
Later in the afternoon, we got into a playful snowball fight, and I stuffed a handful of snow down the front of Spencer’s sweater. He grabbed me around the waist and spun me around. I got dizzy and collapsed onto the soft snow, laughing like a teenager. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so free and wild. Spencer flopped down next to me and leaned across my upper body. I tugged on his scarf and pulled his head down close to mine.
Our first kiss was tender, yet hinted at the passion and unbridled desire we felt for each other. I opened my mouth to receive Spencer’s warm tongue, and a flash of heat pulsed through me. The snow-covered ground, the park, everything faded away, as we were lost in each other. I knew then, without a doubt, that I had made the right choice when I had acted impulsively at the mall earlier in the morning.
After several moments of heaven, we broke the embrace. “If we stay like this any longer, we’re liable to melt the mountain,” Spencer joked.
I swallowed hard and gathered my courage. I knew I would be going out on a limb, but I was enjoying my newfound spontaneity. “Then let’s go back to my place,” I whispered in his ear.
We stopped for takeout and two bottles of wine on the way back to my apartment. I opened the door and Spencer stepped inside. He took off his coat and glanced around at the multitude of Christmas presents stacked under my tree.
“Wow!” he exclaimed.
I placed our dinner on the kitchen counter and opened a bottle of wine. If my spur-of-the-moment plan worked, we would be reheating our dinner hours from now. “You should have seen it before. I returned all the guilt-gifts.”
A puzzled look crossed his face. “The what?”
“You know. The guilt-gifts.” I handed him a glass of wine. “Those are the extra generic presents you buy just to have around in case someone you didn’t get something for gives you a gift. They’re usually little things like calendars, coffee mugs, and funny mouse pads.”
Spencer laughed and wrapped his arm around my waist. His touch sent a ripple of excitement through me. I sipped my wine and took a deep breath. Even though my body was aching for Spencer’s, I felt a little nervous about making the first move.
“Don’t tell me you bought me a coffee mug,” he teased.
“No. But I will be honest with you. When I was at the mall this morning, I did sort of buy something with you in mind.” I giggled.
Spencer arched an eyebrow. “You did? Really?”
I licked my lips and trailed my hand down the front of his sweater. “Would you like to see it?”
He gave me a gentle squeeze. “Sure. I’d love to.”
I left Spencer standing in the living room and darted into the bedroom. My heart pounded out of control as I changed into the gift I had bought for myself, and, in a way, Spencer. I grinned as I recalled the wild fantasy I’d had in the toy aisle just yesterday.
A few minutes later, I came out of the bedroom wearing a green silk robe. “What do you think?”
Spencer turned to me, and his eyes widened. He set his wineglass down and crossed the room. “I like it. Green’s a good color on you.” He pulled me close for a soul-shattering kiss.
I melted in his arms and ran my hands down his wide back. A groan escaped my throat as his tongue worked magic in my mouth. Flames of desire rose up in me, and I broke the embrace and stepped back. I glanced into Spencer’s eyes and smiled coyly.
“I’m glad you like it, but that’s not what I bought with you in mind.”
He frowned. “It’s not?”
I shook my head and untied the robe. “No. This is.” I opened my robe to reveal a low-cut, red lace teddy and matching garters. “I figured this was a gift that we both might like.”
Spencer’s mouth dropped open and he grinned from ear love it. “But I don’t have a present for you,” he said.
I wrapped my arms around his neck and nibbled on his earlobe. “I know what you can give me—all night long.”
He let out a low moan. “I like that idea. After all, it is better to give than to receive,” he whispered.
In the blink of an eye, Spencer scooped me off my feet and carried me into the bedroom. Needless to say, we both liked the presents we exchanged that night.
We spent the rest of the weekend “being spontaneous” and finding innovative uses for my extra ribbons and bows. I never did make the gingerbread men to take to work, but we devoured the icing, anyway.
Spencer certainly spiced up my sex life and gave me a new outlook on living. I tossed out my mile-long to-do list and day planner, and I live life day by day. I don’t feel overwhelmed with things I should do and have to get done. I’m more relaxed, and I focus on the important things now. My friends and coworkers have even gotten used to me saying “no.”
Spencer and I are enjoying ourselves to the fullest. The new year is already off to a great start. Spencer surprised me by renting us a hotel room with a hot tub for New Year’s Eve.
I can’t wait to see what Valentine’s Day brings!