Rugged Heroes ~ Resilient Heroines ~ Heartwarming Romance
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Christmas in July at the zoo is the last place single parents Eric Riley and Marissa Wilder expect to find love. Thanks to some mistletoe mischief in the form of their two young daughters and Santa, they discover Mistletoe Rules were not made to be broken.
"Daddy, you're under the mistletoe."
Eric glanced up at a sprig of leaves and holly berries attached to the roof of the cart, then dropped his gaze to Marissa's. "So we are," he murmured.
Her face flushed, but he couldn't tell if it was from embarrassment, or anticipation of a kiss. He knew the reason his pulse raced like an out of control locomotive.
"You have to kiss her," Reese stated.
God Bless you, Reese.
Santa laid his arm across the back of the front passenger seat and craned his head around, his brown eyes twinkling. "'Tis tradition."
"It's the rule," Reese argued, frowning at Santa before turning back to Eric. "You say so every Christmas when we stand in the doorway at Grandma's."
"I do, don't I?"
Reese nodded emphatically. "Every year."
Eric faced Marissa and sighed with exaggerated reluctance. "I might've been able to buck tradition, but a rule's a rule."
Major Mark Riley plays Court Jester to Janelle Walsh's Snow Queen at the Christmas Parade and is instantly captivated by the cute redhead whose grandpa just happens to be Santa. When Mark learns she's the tenant he evicted from his newly purchased property, it's going to take a little bit of Santa's mistletoe magic to save their romance.
She gave him a quick half-smile and sidestepped toward the wagon. "It was nice to meet you, Major. Thanks for doing such a great job as the jester."
"You're welcome, and you can call me Mark, you know."
The briefest flash of consternation in her expression told him she hadn't meant to say that out loud. When her foot landed on the step so she could pull herself up into the driver's seat, Mark caught her arm and turned her around. She grabbed hold of his shoulder to keep her balance on the narrow step.
"If I don't do this, it's going to drive me crazy until I see you again," he told her in a low voice.
Her throat muscles worked in a hard swallow. "Do what?" A downward flick of her gaze said she knew the answer to her own question.
He let his mouth relax in a slow, confidant smile. One step closer brought him close enough to brace a hand against the wagon on either side of her. "I gotta tell you, pretty as you were as the Snow Queen, elf suits you better—although I do miss those cute, pointy little ears."
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, please."
He took a moment to let his gaze roam over her face. Snow drifted down silently and their breath mingled in the frigid air. Mark drew out the anticipation of what was to come, enjoying the awareness that warmed the space between them.
"You look like Christmas," he murmured.
One corner of her mouth twitched. "I'm guessing it's the costume."
He shook his head and reached up to twirl a red curl around his finger, watching the silky length wind against his skin before holding her gaze with his. "Red and green, and all wrapped up like a delicious, cinnamon scented present."
She laughed softly.
Mark closed the remaining few inches, pressing the length of his body to hers. "In fact, I think I need to go find Santa and tell him I've been a real good boy this year."
He spoke the last words a hairsbreadth away from her lips.
When Lisa Riley comes home for Mark's Christmas Eve wedding, her high school rivalry with Janelle's cousin, Derek Walsh, picks up right where it left off, only this time Derek's got the upper hand. Santa bides his time as they battle it out because he's waited a whole year for this mistletoe match-up.
The church door burst open with a flurry of twirling snowflakes. Derek Walsh halted on the bottom step of the entrance hall when a tall, slender figure hustled in, duffle bag slung over her shoulder and a wadded dress bag clutched in her arms.
Frozen moisture clung to long black strands of windblown hair, catching the shine of the white lights adorning the church foyer this Christmas Eve.
"Stupid snow," she muttered, wrestling to close the door. The duffle bag slid from her shoulder and hit the ground with a thud. "White Christmases are way overrated."
Whistling wind competed with the organ music in the church. Derek crossed his arms and leaned a hip against the hand rail. Lisa Riley. The bane of his high school existence. She didn't appear to have changed much in the past nine years; arriving only moments before the bride walked down the aisle. Still thinking only of herself. Still disorganized. Still late.
With the door finally closed, she turned and slumped against the oak, heaving a huge sigh. One
toss of her head flipped the wild locks back over her shoulder and gave him a clear view of her stubborn chin, full lips, high cheekbones and piercing gray eyes framed by a thick fan of midnight lashes.
Still beautiful, damn her.
She froze the instant she saw him watching. Her gaze darted around the empty entrance, paused on the closed doors at the top of the steps, and then returned to him. Her mouth thinned into a flat line. "Where is everyone?"
"Already started. You're late."
"I know." Her chin lifted as if she prepared to debate him like old times. The strains of Collin
Raye's ballad The Gift filtered between the hinges of the doors. Lisa grabbed the duffle bag from the floor and moved away from the doors toward the steps he stood on. "I just need five min—"
Derek stepped sideways to block her path. "That's Janelle's cue. This is low, even for you."
"What does that mean?"
She raised one palm, the dress bag still crushed in her arms. "Forget it. And move."
"I'm not going to let you upstage my cousin."
Her glare sharpened when he didn't stand aside. "I am not missing my brother's wedding."
"You're not making a grand entrance, either."
"I'm not trying to," she snapped. "Like I was saying, I only need five minutes to get ready, so if you'd stop being a such a pain in the ass, I could get my dress on and—"
One of the doors at the top of the landing swung open and Eric Riley stepped half-way through the door. "What is going on—Lisa! It's about time! Where the heck have you been?"
He disappeared just as fast. Derek sighed in frustrated defeat when Lisa brushed past. "Eric!"
The music cut off abruptly. Seconds later the doors flew open again, spewing forth most of the wedding party. Mark Riley, the groom; Ben and Sue, the parents of the groom; Eric and Marissa Riley, and Reese and Heather in their flower girl dresses. The girls each held one of their five-month-old twin baby brothers. Jim and Jill Newel, the remaining groomsman and bridesmaid, rounded out the backward procession.
Hands shoved in his pockets, Derek stood back and watched everyone give Lisa the royal treatment she'd received all through high school as the star basketball player who'd led the girls team to three state victories. The prodigal daughter returned home to steal the spotlight at his cousin's wedding.
Lisa ate up the attention with her thousand watt smile and a lilting voice that sounded as false as a politician's promise. Fitting, considering he'd heard she managed political campaigns for a living.
"If I weren't so happy to see you, I'd yell at you for almost missing the ceremony," Sue Riley chastised.
"It's a long story, Mom."
Derek stepped forward to end the spectacle on Janelle's behalf, but Mark beat him to it. "Tell it later, sis. I don't want to keep my bride waiting any longer. Hurry up."
"Five minutes. Scout's honor."
Derek took Lisa's arm and turned her toward one of the open dressing rooms. "You've got three," he growled in her ear before giving her a soft push.
Thanks for reading!
****************** REVIEWS ******************
~ Diana, Night Owl Romance Reviews
"I smiled my way through this book. Each story has a clearly-defined nicely-developed plot and distinct, well-rounded characters. This is the best e-book I've read in a while and an absolutely delightful Christmas treat. Grab this one to de-stress during the holiday rush." Best Book ~ Water Lily, LASR Full Review
"Three stories in one book. I love that Ms. Netzel has included all three stories in one book. So many times I read a book and wonder about the other characters. This time I didn't have to do that. They were all in here and all had great stories. I LOVED this series. They were sweet stories, written well, with a bit of hotness in them, and hard to put down. All three were good, but I think Mistletoe Magic was my favorite. I especially liked the vision of Mark in tights. Makes me want to get some mistletoe. Thanks for the great reading! " You Gotta Read Rating ~ Jennifer, You Gotta Read Reviews Full Review
"This anthology of three stories involving the Riley siblings, a matchmaking Santa, and mistletoe is a real Christmas treat. It has everything...[and] is impossible to resist." 5 Candy Canes ~ Starla, Got Romance Holiday Reviews Full Review
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