7 Days of Christmas by Nicole Dennis
A homeless orphan finds a small town and someone to show him the magic of the holidays with seven red envelopes.
On the 7th Day of Christmas, my Safe Haven gave to me – The Warmth of the Season.
On the 6th Day of Christmas, my Safe Haven gave to me – A Fresh Start of the Season.
On the 5th Day of Christmas, my Safe Haven gave to me – Rags to Riches of the Season.
On the 4th Day of Christmas, my Safe Haven gave to me – The Wonderful Scent of the Season.
On the 3rd Day of Christmas, my Safe Haven gave to me – A Christmas Season to Believe In.
On the 2nd Day of Christmas, my One Hope gave to me – Surprises of the Season!
On the 1st Day of Christmas, my One Hope gave to me – Visions of the Season!
Noel glanced at him, lifted an eyebrow in a wary fashion. “What are you talking about?”
“Did I go to fast for you?”
Noel swooshed a hand over his head.
Justin chuckled at the motion. He figured he wouldn’t get an easy acceptance about anything he offered to Noel. He didn’t blame him. After being on the streets for so long, Noel would’ve lost trust and belief in most folks. It would take a while for Justin to earn Noel’s trust that he wouldn’t toss him aside. “Okay. We’ll go through this again.”
He would need to be careful around Noel, not to push him too far and lose whatever momentum they built together. Part of his mind started to click with a wonderful, if crazy, plan he wanted to enact with this kid, who’d had such a rough life. He would play Secret Santa this year for a very special person. It would be a very special type of Secret Santa game.
“Well?” Noel held out his hands. “What’s the deal?”
“I’m offering you a job. Here.”
“Got that part. What’s the job?”
“You’re going to work here at BookWorm as another sales associate. Amy quit yesterday and I’m going crazy with the holiday hours. We have seven shopping days left in this season and I need to make them count. You know the store since you’ve been here every day and pretty much been to every corner of it. I’ll show you how to handle the inventory, clean, shelve, and pull books for online orders.”
“Just like that you’re giving me this job, on the spot. Why? You know nothing about me.”
“Thanks to this chat and how you opened up to me, I believe I know you a little better than you think. You’ll get twelve bucks an hour to start plus overtime.”
“What? Twelve dollars an hour? That’s above minimum.”
“I always pay above minimum. You’re saving me from going crazy. One of my clerks quit during the craziest time of the year and she damn well knew it. You love books. You need a job. It’s a win-win situation for both of us.”
“Accept the offer, please, Noel. I’m not going to accept a refusal.”
“Okay. Okay. I accept the position.”
Noel cleared his throat and rubbed his hands together. “Thank you.”
“More than welcome,” Justin said with a warm smile. “We’re happy to have you onboard. We’ll fill out paperwork later.” He finished his latte and the last of the apple cake. “Dang, love this stuff, I should have gotten another one.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Oh. Sorry. Sorry. This cake is one of my vices.” Justin wiped his fingers on a napkin to clean them. “I need you to write down your sizes so I can go shopping.” He would gather a few more things to put his Secret Santa plan in action, but he had to take care and not frighten him. Though Noel put up a damn punchy front, underneath there was a scared rabbit. No matter what, this was going to be the best holiday season ever.
“I can’t believe this.” Noel scribbled down what Justin wanted. “Why are you doing this for me? Even with a chat, you still don’t know me from the next guy on the street.”
“You’ve come in here every day for two weeks solid. You’re quiet and conscientious of others around you. You’re an honest fella who hasn’t had the best path in life.” Justin leaned forward and placed his hand on Noel’s knee. “I didn’t want to see you standing out in the damn snow every day and hiding from the world in my store. I wondered who you were and where you would go once I closed the store. My grandparents taught me over years not to ignore anyone, but to do something to change what I believe is wrong. I think your situation fits the bill.”
Noel stared down and then up at Justin. “Man, I could be a total loser giving you a sob story to steal everything from you.”
“I’ll be blunt.” Justin captured Noel’s gaze with his direct one. “Are you conning me?”
Justin lifted his hand and pointed a finger at him. “I didn’t think so. It isn’t in you.”
“Good judge of character. This conversation cemented my decision along with your behavior these last couple of weeks. Every day, you select a book to read and you put it back on the shelf. You’re not a thief or trying to scam me, Noel.” Justin dropped his hand again on Noel’s knee. “I have a guest room at home too. You’re welcome to stay there. No more about this sleeping in a tent thing, it’s ridiculous to think about it.”
“Really? You’re not going to expect anything from me? I mean—”
“What? Oh!” Justin reddened, shook his head, dropped his hand from Noel’s knee, and cleared his throat. “No, no, no.” He waved his hand. “I don’t expect you in my bed in exchange for anything I’m doing to help you. If you want me, hell, it is your choice all the way. Though on my end, you’re adorable and way cute. So, yeah, I want you, but I won’t take advantage of the situation.”
Noel flushed fifty shades of red.
“WoulditbesobadifIwantedtobeinyourbed?” he muttered all in one word.
Justin cocked his head to the side. Did he hear Noel say what he thought he did? Perhaps his Secret Santa plan could work after all. He hoped it wouldn’t scare Noel away. No matter what, he had to offer him the safe haven he seemed to crave. This beautiful young man needed to have those shadows removed from his gorgeous grayish-blue eyes, the exhaustion banished from the slender shoulders, a full belly of good food, a soft pillow where he could sleep without being on guard, along with friendship, light, and warmth poured back into his heart. Not to mention, Justin wanted to show Noel there was more to a birthday and Christmas than loss and heartache. He would figure out all the details as he pulled this cockamamie plan together. He might scramble a couple of days, but it would come together. Either way, there were eight days to Christmas, so he had to make it work.