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Authors: Serenity Woods

Santa's Secret

BOOK: Santa's Secret
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Santa’s Secret

 

by Serenity Woods

 

 

 

 

Santa’s Secret

 

Text copyright 2013 Serenity Woods

All Rights Reserved

 

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and
incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organisations
is coincidental.

Chapter One

Eva saw him across the white carpet of snow
between the two cabins as she struggled up the path with her suitcases. He stood
by the front door opposite hers, hanging up a holly wreath, and from the back
he looked tall and broad-shouldered, dressed casually in a fisherman’s rib blue
sweater and jeans. A dusting of white coated his hair and shoulders, and this
and his mumbled curse implied he had been standing for a few minutes in the
light snow, trying to get the wreath to stay put.
Wow
, she thought, suspecting
he would be her neighbour for Christmas.
What luck!

Then she glanced at his feet. He wore a
large pair of Rudolph the Reindeer slippers. The red nose flashed steadily,
like a warning beacon.

At that moment he glanced over his
shoulder, and it was difficult to say who was the most embarrassed—Eva at being
caught staring, or the man as he glanced at his feet and realised what she’d
been looking at.

He grinned sheepishly. “My daughter suggested
it might help me to get in the festive spirit.” His gaze brushed down her and then
returned to her face, his smile warming, suggesting he liked what he saw.

Eva totally meant to keep walking, but she
slowed to a halt as if her legs had a will of their own, captivated by that
smile, by his ruffled dark-blond hair, by his strong Finnish accent.
A
local, then?
The guy was gorgeous, the perfect illustration of the sort of
Viking she’d expected to find in the Arctic Circle.

She opened her mouth to reply, to say
something witty and amusing. But at that moment one of the suitcases slipped
from her numb fingers and crashed to the ground, pinging open and scattering
its contents—which appeared to consist mainly of her bras and panties—onto the
snow. At the same time, the three-year-old boy running behind her bumped into
the back of her legs, stumbled and fell backwards onto his bottom into the snow
and promptly burst into tears.

Eva hesitated, torn between comforting
Oscar and hurriedly trying to scoop her underwear into the suitcase before the
Viking saw it. Then she sighed, lowered the other suitcase and bent to lift her
son back onto his feet, putting her arms around him and murmuring reassuring
words that he wasn’t hurt and no damage had been done.

A pair of flashing red slippers appeared in
her view, and then the man dropped to his haunches beside her. “I am happy to
help,” he said, indicating the open suitcase, “but I do not want to embarrass you
by fondling your underwear.”

She met his gaze, stunned into silence for
a moment by his amazing bright blue eyes, the colour Oscar’s had been when the
midwife had first placed him in her arms, wrapped in a hospital blanket. The
Viking smiled, and Eva caught her breath as a tingle ran between her shoulder
blades and descended down her spine. It had been a long time since a man had
looked at her like that—as a woman, not as a mother; as if it didn’t matter
that she had a bawling child in her arms, which usually caused men to act as if
she’d sprayed herself with repellent.

He didn’t look away, and for a brief moment
she felt as if time had stopped. Surely that would be the only reason why this
godlike male wasn’t retreating hastily as Oscar sniffled and wiped his nose on
her shoulder? But the snowflakes carried on falling silently around them,
convincing her the seconds were still ticking away and the spark that continued
to jump between them wasn’t her imagination.

Then he blinked, breaking the spell.

She looked down at Oscar’s tear-stained
face blushed red from the cold, and sighed. His golden curls—so unlike her own
straight, dark hair—made him look more angelic than he really was, but he
wasn’t a bad boy. She kissed his cold, wet cheek. He missed having a man’s
influence in his life. They both did.

“I want Bear,” Oscar said, pointing to
where he’d dropped the soft Winnie-the-Pooh.

The man picked it up, brushed off the snow
and gave it to him. “Here you go. Good as new.”

Oscar took the bear and cuddled him,
looking at the stranger with wide eyes.

Eva pushed herself up and smiled. “I’d be
very grateful for some help, thanks. Once you’ve gone through childbirth and
had a baby throw up on you at the most inopportune moments, you realise you’ve
passed the age where embarrassment is an issue.”

He laughed and quickly picked up the items
on the floor, dropped them in the suitcase and clipped it shut. “I know what
you mean. After Isabel had a huge tantrum outside my office just as a news
reporter was on his way out, I realised I had waved goodbye to any chance of dignity
for the foreseeable future.”

Of course, she’d forgotten that he’d said
his daughter had bought him the slippers. “They say it gets better, but I’ve
yet to see it,” she said.

He picked up both suitcases and walked
beside her to the door of her cabin. “Well, Isabel is seven now and she is a
right little lady who tends to be more horrified by my actions than I am by
hers, so I suppose in that sense it does.”

Eva smiled and used her key to open the
cabin. She pushed the door open, and Oscar finally let go of her hand and ran
inside.

“I will leave these here,” the Viking said,
placing her suitcases just inside the door. “It was good to meet you, anyway.
My name is Rudi.” He held out his hand.

“Eva, and that’s Oscar,” she said as her
son came back to wrap his arms around her legs. She placed her hand in the
Viking’s for a brief shake. His skin was cool but warmer than hers, his grip
strong, and the touch sent another warm tingle through her as if she’d sipped a
hot toddy.

“Cold hands,” he said, releasing hers.

“Warm heart,” she finished.

“It is not good, though. You should wear
gloves when you go outdoors in this weather.”

She supposed she should be annoyed that he
was bossing her around when she hardly knew him, but his gentle concern touched
her. It had been a while since there had been a man around to worry about her.

She shook the thought off and asked, “Is
your name short for Rudolph?”

He scratched the back of his neck ruefully.
“Unfortunately.”

“Like the reindeer?” Oscar pointed at his
slippers.

“That is right, yes.”

“Your nose isn’t red though,” Oscar said.

“If I spend much longer in this cold, it
will be.” Rudi grinned at him, then winked at Eva. “So now you know my secret.
You realise I am going to have to call you Christmas Eva in retaliation?”

She laughed. “I’ve been called worse.”

He nodded, shoved his hands in his pockets
then glanced over his shoulder. “Well, I will be off. I hope you and Oscar have
a lovely time while you are here.”

“You too.”

She watched him walk away, but turned and
went inside before he reached his front door and could glance over to see her staring
at him.

She shut the door and looked down at her
son.

“I liked his slippers,” Oscar said.

She smiled. “They were very nice.”

“The noses flashed.”

“They did, just like Rudolph’s.”

“How did they flash?”

“I think they had a bulb in them.”

“Like a lamp?”

“Yes, like a lamp.” As if in demonstration,
she flicked on the lights, which banished the outside twilight and filled the
room with a warm glow. She took his hand and walked into the cabin with him,
putting Rudi the Viking out of her mind—for a while anyway.

She stared around the cabin with delight.
It had not been a cheap holiday, and her mother-in-law’s throwaway comment when
she first found out Eva had booked the trip, saying that Eva was “living it up”
on the money she got after Damon died, had come back to haunt her on the plane
from England. Bridget hadn’t meant to be hurtful, she knew. The older woman had
taken her to the airport and cried when they left. She just missed her son,
that was all. Still, it had stung, and the guilt had lingered all the way until
they landed at Rovaniemi airport to find the green-and-red bus to Santa’s
Secret Village waiting to pick them up. Oscar had squealed with excitement, and
at that moment, Eva had known she’d done the right thing.

And that belief was only confirmed now as
she looked around the cabin. There was a double bed made up with crisp, clean
white sheets and a thick red duvet, and a large sofa that converted into
another bed. A table and chairs stood in the corner, and a small kitchen opened
off the back so they could prepare their own meals if they didn’t want to eat
out. She glanced in the bathroom and saw with delight that as well as the usual
toilet and shower, it housed the sauna the brochure had promised, which she was
dying to try out.

To the right of the bathroom, a single door
stood alone complete with a large bolt. She realised it led through to the
other cabin—Rudi’s cabin. Larger families could rent the cabins together and
have the door open so they could walk between the two.

She rested her hand on the bolt, high above
Oscar’s reach, and made sure it was secure. Much as she’d liked the look of
Rudi, she didn’t particularly like the idea of him being able to wander in while
she slept.

Satisfied, she turned away and walked to
the rear of the cabin. A long terrace looked over the fields and forest, beyond
which lay the North Pole.

“Where’s Santa?” Oscar asked on cue.

She beckoned him over and pointed at the
forest. Snow fell lightly, and the fields were a carpet of white, pristine and
untouched. On the forest’s edge, off in the distance, a couple were walking,
enjoying the peace and quiet. Eva looked up at the sky, still amazed that here
in the Arctic Circle the sun hardly rose at all over the Christmas period. The
clock next to the bed read four p.m., but the sky was a dark twilight blue, the
large complex that formed Santa’s Secret Village lit by street lamps that cast
the place in an amber glow.

“Santa lives a long way away, where it’s
even colder and snowier than it is here. But this is his secret village where he
comes to visit all the children. You might see him if you look carefully while
we’re here.”

Oscar clapped his hands over his mouth in a
theatrical gesture of excitement. “I can’t wait, Mummy,” he said, his words
muffled by his fingers. “I think I’ll explode.”

“Please don’t.” She walked to the front
door, picked up the suitcases and brought them to the bed. “I’ll have to mop up
the mess. This cabin is lovely, and it seems a shame to make it all sticky with
boy goo.”

Oscar giggled, jumped onto the bed and
bounced up and down. “Is this where I sleep?”

Eva hesitated. At home in the UK he had his
own bedroom and only ever came into her bed if he was unwell. But it was
Christmas, they were on holiday, and sharing the big double bed would mean she
wouldn’t have to set up the sofabed every day.

“Yes,” she conceded, “we’ll both sleep
here. Would you like that?”

“Yes!”
Boing, boing
. He hadn’t
seemed so happy for a long time.

She laughed and started unpacking the cases,
infected by his enthusiasm. The thought of being in Lapland, the home of Santa
Claus, made excitement rise within her like bubbles in a glass of champagne.

She’d nearly unpacked the second suitcase—transferring
Oscar’s presents quickly to the wardrobe when he wasn’t looking—when her mobile
rang in her pocket. She took out the phone, read the screen, which said
“Bridget”, and sighed. Her thumb hovered over the “Off” button. But in the end
she answered it, and walked back to the view across the snowy fields as she
spoke.

“Hello?”

“Hi Eva, it’s Bridget.” Damon’s mother
sounded her usual breathless, slightly panicky self. “I was worried about you.
You landed nearly two hours ago and you haven’t called.”

“Sorry, we had to get through customs and
find the shuttle, and then check in—I just haven’t had a moment.” Eva looked
down, slightly embarrassed at the lie. She could have phoned any number of
times as she waited at the airport, but she’d put the moment off.

“What’s it like?”

Eva looked out at the snow, at the flakes
falling in the golden light from the outside lamps. “It’s beautiful. It’s
magical here, Bridge. Just as I’d hoped it would be.”

“Well, I hope you have a wonderful time. I
miss you.” Bridget’s voice caught, and Eva pressed her fingers to her lips.

“I miss you too.” It wasn’t a complete
lie—Damon’s mother had been very good to her and Oscar.

“I wish you were here,” Bridget whispered,
obviously in tears.

Eva leaned her forehead against the glass.
“It’s not for long.”

“But over Christmas time… Christmas is
about families.” A hint of Bridget’s anger flared behind the words, like the
red scarf around the neck of one of the people walking in the fields, bright
against the snow.

“I know.” Eva didn’t want to hurt her
mother-in-law, but her own irritation spiked. What was the point in arguing
about it now she was there? “Well, you still have Josh and Pippa and their
kids.” Damon’s siblings would be spending most of the Christmas period at their
parents’ house.

BOOK: Santa's Secret
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