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Authors: Carmen Falcone,Michele de Winton

Red Hot Christmas

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Revenge is best gift wrapped…

All Gabby Phillips wants is a Christmas without drama. Fat chance. Not when the new owner of her department store is tall, dark and dangerous: Nicolas Morganti, the man she ran out on. The same man her father stole half a million dollars from and the man her body still craves in the deepest hours of the night. Now she has to keep her cool, and her biggest secret - because if he finds out he has a son, he might just take the last scrap of Christmas spirit she’s got left. 

Nicolas Morganti always gets what he wants. This Christmas that includes his competitor’s huge department store chain. But when he’s told money is missing and that Gabrielle Phillips works there, it doesn’t take him long to point the finger. Nobody's ever run out on him before, and the way Gabby left was colder than a snow storm. Now it's time to settle the score. Revenge can be gift wrapped, right?
 

Christmas Secrets

Michele de Winton

This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any locales, or persons living or dead is coincidental.

Cover by Carrie at Cheeky Covers

Copyright ©2014 Michele de Winton. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, transmit in any form or by any means. For information on subsidiary rights contact the author via her website

www.micheledewinton.com

ISBN - 978-1-63443-049-4

This book is dedicated to all the Frasers of the world – children who have shown their parents the true meaning of Christmas.

Chapter One

“Wow, you look great. I’ll bring your coffee in a minute.”
 

Gabby Phillips spun as her assistant Miriam whizzed past, talking over her shoulder and carrying piles of reports.
 

      Two other assistants practically ran behind her and Gabby put up her hand as if to slow the world down. “Hey, Mr Able might have retired but it doesn’t mean the new owner expects you to run like reindeer.”

No one answered.
 

In her office everything seemed the same, her plants hadn’t died overnight. The deep forest green she’d painted one wall was still there, still looking lush with her mustard couch in sharp contrast. Flopping into her chair Gabby turned on her computer and took three deep breaths. Nothing was the matter, it was just Christmas. Everything was always busy at Christmas.
 

      Clicking through to her emails her breath stuck half way out.

      
Memo to all staff – Re Takeover.

All staff to continue business as usual in the Christmas build up. Full current fiscal accounts to be forwarded to new management today. All positions are secure at this stage.

      Sincerely,
 

Morganti Enterprises.

No ‘keep up the good work’. No welcome, no hello, no name of the man behind the take-over. She closed her eyes. Finding out Mr. Able, the only person to give her a break in New York recently, was leaving, was one thing. To find out on the same day that her new boss was…Gabby reread the byline. Morganti Enterprises. She looked at the nice dark cave under her desk and thought about hiding there. All day.
 

Nicholas Morganti.
 

Her skin went cold.

Oh. Crap. On toast. With three day old fries.

The memory of that man seized Gabby’s body as if he stood in front of her. Her whole being remembered lying in his arms, feeling more safe and secure than she ever had before, his fingers on her face gentle, even while his arm muscles bulged. She hadn’t been able to get enough of him. She was there, then, with him; the breadth of his chest vast compared to her tiny frame; the thrill of him inside her still ringing through her body; both of them breathing heavily, smiling, luxuriating, satiated.
 

Every night of their time together had been breathtaking. Every night till she’d given him the key to her apartment and he’d stayed over. That night, as his hands had trailed from her throat, across her chest, to span the full width of her waist, she’d opened herself up to him completely. His mouth had demanded more and more of her and she’d given it, gladly. When the climax came that night, it shattered her, cracking something inside as if she were made of ice and her heat had finally escaped.
 

That had been the last time.

Gabby shook herself to rid her head and body of the memory.

“Hey, sorry. That memo left us scrambling to get the accounts ready to send to the new team. Here’s your coffee. Crazy isn’t it? Morganti’s taking over. They kept that incredibly quiet. Wonder what Mr. Morganti is like? We googled him. He’s pretty hot.”

      Gabby closed her eyes for a moment as Miriam gushed.
Give me strength.
“He’ll be ruthless and efficient, probably what we all need around here to get the stores full. And yes, I guess he’s alright, if you’re into the dark and brooding type.” Gabby flinched as the other woman raised an eyebrow.
 
“What? I met him before I worked here.”
 

Miriam left and Gabby sat back in her chair.
You did a bit more than
meet
the guy.
Okay. Sure. And ruthless and efficient was an understatement.
 

Others would probably call him charming, but Gabby had seen beneath the veneer and knew that Nicholas Morganti could be calculating and cold. She sighed and chewed on a fingernail.
 

Focus.
She pulled up a video on her phone and pushed play to steady herself. “Mommy, mommy, watch me, I’m filling up the balloon with sky-juice!” Fraser’s high, bright voice filled the room and Gabby laughed, as she always did, at the way he saw the world. How brilliant and alive and vital it was to him. This was what she needed to hold on to. The reason for everything. Fraser. Her five year old son.

Nicolas’s son.

Nicolas Morganti. The man who she would have given her heart to if she hadn’t known he’d only give it back to her gift wrapped and pretend he was doing her a favor. The man she ran from before he found out what her father had done. Before her world cracked and festered like a three day old pizza.

She’d run away from Nicolas, from her father, from the media, but she would never run from Fraser. Never run from building a life for the two of them. Nicolas had never wanted a son, but no way would he have let her keep him, and against his money and lawyers, Gabby knew she’d never have stood a chance in a custody battle.
 

Her son Fraser was the one good thing to come out of her relationship. A son that Nicolas had always proclaimed would ruin his way of life. That he was adamant he would never even consider. Fraser, therefore, was a son that he would never know he had, despite the storm grey eyes they both shared.
 

 
“Don’t forget you’ve got a meeting with your bank manager at lunch.” Her assistant popped her head in just as Gabby put down her phone.

“Bank manager?”

“He called two weeks ago, you told me to make a time. Remember?”

No, she did not remember. The icy dread spread from her heart to her fingers and she rubbed her hands together to try and warm them. “Can we cancel? I’ve got so much to do. The reindeer we’ve got this year don’t like photographic flashes apparently.”

      “This was the only day he could do that worked with both of your schedules. Do you want me to call you a cab?”

      Gabby heaved a sigh. “No. I’ll walk. It’ll be quicker.” Rudolf and his friends would have to be photographed without a flash and she would have to face her bank manager like a grownup. “Call the photographer and let him know about the reindeer. He’ll need to bring extra lights instead of using his flash. Someone needs to organize three phase power for him too, we hadn’t planned on lighting everything…”

      “Go. This can all wait half an hour.” Her assistant handed Gabby her coat.

Winter had painted the city in dim colors but the streets still felt alive to Gabby and she almost allowed her legs to cave to their instincts and keep walking. Oh to be able to stroll New York’s streets during her lunch break, doing some window shopping, picking up a Christmas present for Fraser.
But you can’t. Get a grip girl
. Sighing, Gabby pushed open the heavy glass doors of her bank and registered with the receptionist.
 

      “Gabrielle, come this way.”

      Casting a last wistful glance at the door, Gabby stood and followed the bank manager she’d inherited from her father.

      “So how’s everything at Able’s? My grandkids are looking forward to meeting Santa this year.”

      “It’s all going well. A few last minute hiccups but it’ll be ready for your grandkids, don’t worry.”

      “Good.” His well-worn face drooped and extra wrinkles appeared around his mouth.
 

“Best you just tell me straight,” she said. Here was the crux of it. Her father. The mess. The debt he’d left her with.

      “You’ve paid down almost twenty percent of the main debt. It’s really good going in such a short amount of time.”

Gabby sat back in her chair and let the past swirl around her for a moment. It had taken her a whole day to register that her father was just as greedy and stupid as the investment bankers from the 2008 crash he’d always derided. He’d even been cocky enough to not cover the tracks of his dubious hedge fund. So now along with taking down his poor secretary Sydney, her father was in prison. And the best part? He’d left Gabby tarred and feathered with his fraud-storm.

“Five years doesn’t sound like a short amount of time,” she said. And almost twenty percent didn’t sound like a lot of debt to have paid off. “How much is almost twenty percent?”

“Don’t put yourself down, you’ve done very well.” The banker paused. “Sixteen percent,” he mumbled.

Gabby managed a weak smile. Her bank manager had known her for a long time and treated her a bit like one of his older grandkids. Oh for someone like that in
her
family.

Her father had put their old family home and one of his companies in Gabby’s name. At the time he’d told her it was for her future, said he was doing her a favor. But when the FBI raided their house, ripping her life apart, she soon learned the favor hadn’t been for her. Happily she’d managed to avoid ending up in the papers with her father, thanks to some clever maneuvering by her father’s one remaining friend, a lawyer she’d known since she was a kid. But he couldn’t do anything about what her father had done without her knowledge.
 

She sighed. She’d run with a baby in her belly and Nicolas’s investment stolen from under her nose. Not that Nicolas would believe it. Or know that she was paying every cent back. Everything she put towards the debt went to the receivers and only a few investors were likely to see much of it. Financial regulation was expensive. Apparently.

Snap out of it.
She sat up straighter. “So what’s the bad news?”

“Did I say there was bad news?”

“No, but I can tell. Come on, give it to me straight.”

“Interest rates have gone up more than we planned for. Your repayments are going to have to increase if you want to keep to your schedule.”

      “Increase?”

      “I’m sorry.” He paused again. “The papers say you’ve just got a new boss. Perhaps you’ll get a pay rise?”

      
I will not cry. I will not cry.
“That’s probably about as likely as pigs pulling Santa’s sleigh this year.”

      “Oh. Well. Best we can do is, what do you kids say,
keep on keeping on
? There’s no need to panic, I just thought it was better you heard this in person. I didn’t want to risk you misinterpreting anything over the phone.”

      Gabby nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Keep on keeping on? She was barely
hanging
on with the bills she had at the moment. Anything extra might just tip her over the edge.

Walking out of the bank Gabby wondered how on earth she was going to make ends meet. Maybe she should have just let the receivers take everything and allowed herself to be declared bankrupt. She just hadn’t wanted to take that last step, not when it would hamper her dreams of starting up her own PR events business one day. “It wasn’t my fault. I shouldn’t have to live with that for the rest of my life.” A few passersby looked up at her, but without any great surprise.
New York, New York, the place that don’t sleep and don’t give a damn.
“One thing at a time girl.” Time to take the advice she was always issuing her overstressed staff.
 

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