I decided to change things up a bit today and am posting a scene from one the books I’ve read recently. Rocky Mountain Desire by Vivian Arend
“Delivery for you, Hope. I’ve got three more in the truck. Where do you want them?”
The blast of cold through the door snapped off as he closed it behind him, but Hope examined his load with trepidation. “Why are you delivering my new shelves now? I thought no one could build them until the New Year? I asked for them to be stored until then.”
He snapped to attention, a grin plastered to his face. “You were on the Secret Santa list. Someone is coming out today to set them up for you.”
Mortification froze her feet in place. Only he looked so damn pleased about the whole thing she forced a smile. “Well. That’s…nice. Umm, I don’t remember signing up for the Secret Santa. In fact, I know I didn’t.”
“Your name was on the list, and someone volunteered to drop by. That’s all I know. Love this time of year—people are so giving.”
He pointed at his burden and Hope nodded. No matter how horrified she was, she couldn’t leave him standing there.
“Can you put them just outside the back storage room, please?”
All the while she served her customers and tidied the shop from the mad scramble of the morning, Hope tried to figure out who the hell would have put her name down for the Secret Santa.
It was a charity service. She didn’t need help. In fact, she’d offered items herself, making a couple of quilts for the hospital and nursing home. Being lumped as a charity case wasn’t a happy thought. Even the pleasure of getting to organize the chaos of the back room onto sturdy metal shelving wasn’t enough to eliminate the distaste in her mouth…….
She smiled up at the next customer and all her thoughts about broken sex drives fluttered away like tinsel on the wind. Matt’s firm jaw and cold-reddened cheeks were just visible above the raised collar of his thick winter coat—the coat he was removing and hanging on the rack. Like he planned to stay for a while.
Tingles raced over her as if she’d hit an exposed wire on the Christmas light string. “Can I get you something?”
He laughed. “Hi, Hope. How are things? Nice to see you too.”
“Well, yeah, hi. What are you doing here?” Okay, that was borderline rude, but being shell-shocked didn’t make for quick polite responses.
He held up a hand then dug into his back pocket. “My mom had a list of things she needed last minute, but she got roped into babysitting the nephews while Beth wraps gifts. Can you package these up for her?” Matt passed over the list and she eyed it carefully.
“It will take a few minutes.”
“No rush.” He was rolling up his sleeves again, and she turned away to avoid staring. Damn, damn, damn.
Why did her body do this? All the bubbling interest she kept hoping for with Clay burst out from wherever it had been hiding and rocked her with frustration.
Matt laid a hand on her arm. “Where are the shelves?”
Confusion swirled for a moment before she connected the dots. Oh. Bloody. Hell. “You’re my Secret Santa?”
He waggled his brows. “Ho ho ho.”
This wasn’t happening. “There’s a mistake. I didn’t sign up for the program. You can go and help someone else.”
Matt shook his head. “Sorry. You have shelves, I have tools and time. I’m going to build them. You have any specific instructions? Then I’ll get out of your hair and get started.”
The fact he ignored her protests added fuel to the fire. She managed not to stomp to his side, aware of the customers still wandering the small shop. Hope grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him close enough she could whisper. “I don’t. Need. Your help.”
He frowned then shrugged in dismissal. “You were on the list—”
“I didn’t sign up. It’s a mistake.”
Matt didn’t hesitate. “But you do have shelves that need to be assembled?”
Blast. She didn’t want to lie. “I do, but they can wait.”
“As your friend, I’d be honoured to put them together for you.” The twinkle of mischief in his eyes told her he knew damn well whipping out the friend card would push her buttons.
Her anger still simmered, which was enough to help excuse the flush of sexual frustration that rolled over her every time he got within striking distance. A customer waved in her direction, and Hope gave up. “Fine. Thank you. I want them three across the north wall and one beside the back door.”
Matt tipped an imaginary hat and strode away, whistling a Christmas tune. She dragged her gaze off his butt and hurried to deal with her customer, even as she plotted revenge.
He worked as quietly as he could, the teeny screws giving him ample grief and plenty of time to reflect on exactly why he was doing this crazy task in the first place. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have chores to do at the ranch. But when he’d overheard Clay talking at the hardware shop the day before, the seeds had been planted.
When his mom had shoved the shopping list into his hand this morning and as good as pushed him into Hope’s path, there was no way he could resist. His response to sneak into her shop ahead of the guy might be unreasonable, maybe even childish.
Fuck if he’d let some overgrown grease monkey make points with Hope by assembling her shelves. Maybe he hadn’t known about the Secret Santa deal until a couple days ago. He knew enough to get the job done before Clay set foot on the premises.
He moved another pile of boxes to the side so he could manoeuvre the second shelf into place—she must have had some kind of a storm happen in the back recently. Either that or she was secretly messy, although he’d never have guessed that from the way her house and the outside shop were organized.
The front-door chime rang again and again. The sounds all reinforced this was a different kind of workplace than he was used to. There were no noises from the animals or rumbling engines. Instead there was laughter and conversation and the steady undertones of Christmas carols drifting through it all.
Then things got quiet for a while followed by a low rumble of a male voice entering the picture. Matt considered poking his head out of the storage area to see who’d come in, but he was near enough to being done with the final shelf he resisted.
When they moved closer, Hope’s and Clay’s individual voices came clear.
“You like vegetable soup? I got turkey sandwiches and coleslaw as well.” “Sounds good. You can put it on the table there and I’ll get us plates. If someone comes in, I’ll have to go and help them.”
“That’s fine, but that’s why I waited until after one, because most everyone else is off their lunch break now. You might have a few minutes free.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be at the shop yourself?”
“Nahh. Dad and the guys, we all take turns for breaks. I arranged mine for the afternoon.”
Matt took his time putting the final shelf into place. He’d been gone from his chores for a lot longer than anyone expected, and he still wasn’t completely sure why. It was weird, eavesdropping as the two of them talked about nothing in particular. Guilt hit over what he was doing, hiding out in the back room as the guy he’d intended to muck with sat out front sharing a meal with Hope.
“Want to know my surprise?” Clay teased.
“All depends. Does it require me to do anything other than relax?”
“Definitely not. That’s the good bit—you know those shelves you ordered from Home Hardware?”
Matt grinned and glanced over the assembled units, the old wooden ones lined up at the back door ready to be hauled away.
Hope answered hesitantly. “Yeah…?”
“I’ve come to put them up for you.”
Perfect timing. Hope was launching into her protests when Matt stepped into the room and their line of vision.
Clay’s jaw swung open. He glanced quickly between Matt and Hope.
“What are you doing here?”
“Matt set up my shelves.” Her cheeks were flushed.
“What the hell he do that for? You ask him to?”
“He’s…” she swallowed hard, “…my Secret Santa.”
“But that’s not possible. I signed up. My name was on the list.”
Hope muttered. “Mine wasn’t supposed to be.”
“What?” Matt hid his smirk, the total confusion on Clay’s face worth the effort it had taken to sneak away from his tasks for a couple hours. Hope looked him over, her eyes narrowing with suspicion.
Maybe he hadn’t hidden anything as well as he thought. She rose to her feet. “Guys, I have no idea what’s going on. I didn’t put my name on any list. I don’t know why you’re both here, but I don’t have time for…whatever this is. Thank you for lunch, Clay. And thank you for putting up my shelves, Matt. But if you don’t mind, I need to get back to work. I need the two of you to stop acting like children and let me get on with what I decide I want. This is my life, not yours. Butt out.”
She glared at them in turn, almost daring them to respond. Matt wasn’t stupid. He’d seen that expression on his mama and Jaxi before. It was the “pissed-off female, don’t mess with me” look. The one the men in the family ignored at their own peril.
“Matt, the supplies your mom wanted are ready to go.” With perfect timing the front doorbell rang, and Hope turned her back on them both, heading to the front with a surprisingly cheerful call for her customer.