One Snowy Night Before Christmas






Jessica Jeffries hates Christmas. With all the commercialism, stress and chaos, there are a lot of people who feel the same way. But Jessie has more reason than most for hating it. She’s been robbed, dumped, caught pneumonia, broken her leg, and this year she ran over Santa Claus with her truck.

Tom Dunham’s holiday is turning out to be pretty awful. Not only is he suddenly responsible for a six-year-old daughter he hasn’t seen since infancy, but Amy holds him personally responsible for uprooting her, making it impossible for Santa to find her on Christmas morning.

Things go from bad to worse when Tom’s car breaks down on a freezing mountain road, but he gets a reprieve when a young woman who looks more like a Victoria’s Secret model than a tow truck driver comes to his rescue. Suddenly things are looking up—until she runs over an old man with an eerie resemblance to St. Nick.
“That’s better, hmm?” He took a mouthful himself. The little girl barely nodded, but he knew the sweet, chocolaty warmth felt as good in her stomach as his.

The rig shuddered as it took the weight of his car. Something clanged, and the whirring sound grew louder. Tom glanced out the back window to see the hood of his Cutlass slowly rising. Even wearing all that gear, she had to be cold.

The hydraulic motor shut off and a moment later the door to the cab opened, letting in a chilling rush of snowy air. The girl hopped in and slammed the door. “You really planted that front end.”

She pulled off her hood, revealing an unruly mop of gorgeous red hair. It was like molten copper, and it made him warmer just looking at it. Vivid green eyes the color of Douglas fir twinkled as she smiled. Maybe she had forgiven his chauvinistic comment.

“The power to the brakes and the steering went out when the engine quit. I wasn’t ready for it.”

“That must have been some ride.” She glanced past him at Amy. “I’ll bet it rattled your teeth.”

The little girl regarded her with those haunted eyes. Thankfully it was late; he could blame her silence on the hour.

“I’m just grateful you came along. I don’t want to think what would have happened otherwise.”

She pulled off a thick glove and offered her hand. “I’m Jessica Jeffries. You can call me Jessie.” She shook his with a capable grip. “You wouldn’t have been out here long. The highway patrol is going to shut down the road in about a half hour. They always clear it with the plow, just to make sure they don’t leave anyone stranded.”

Her warm hand helped the life crawl back through him. “I’m Tom Dunham, this is my daughter, Amy.”

She put the mighty truck in gear and slowly pulled away. “Dunham, as in Dunham Law in Chester?”

“Yeah, you’ve heard of me?”

“Nope. Just driven past your building. I love Victorian houses and that one is hard to miss.”

For some reason he felt disappointed by that explanation and he didn’t volunteer he only rented the place. She kept her eyes on the road and her conversation sounded like she was only half talking to him.

“This is some night,” he said, struggling for small talk. Why did the presence of a beautiful woman always leave him tongue-tied? He could handle himself with the ruthlessness and precision of an attacking general in the courtroom, but put him alone in a confined space with a beautiful woman and he turned into a clown. And not one of those witty, cute clowns that could make balloon animals, but one of those clumsy, funny looking ones that were always the butt-end of the joke.

“Caught you unaware, did it?” she asked.

He watched her profile as she stared at the road ahead. She was a tall girl, yet delicate at the same time. With full lips, flawless skin and the well-defined bone structure of a Victoria’s Secret model, she was the last person he expected to find driving a tow truck.

“What has you out so late in a snowstorm?” Her words faltered near the end of her question, as though she decided too late it was a personal question.

“We’re on our way home from San Francisco. There was an accident on I-5 and I thought cutting off the main highway would save some time.”

“Ah well, don’t worry. This weather can surprise the best of us.”

“The ‘best of us’ are smart enough to buy this stuff.” He fingered a wrinkle in her heavy polar jacket. “Right after Christmas, I’m going to buy a suit of armor like this for us both.”

Apparently Amy didn’t know he was talking about her, or simply didn’t care.

Jessie skillfully steered the massive truck around a hairpin turn. The wind pounded them, making the truck shudder. The dark night was consuming, murky. “How long have you been driving a tow truck?” he asked.

What a stupid question. Do you come here often? Dhur.

“Six years.” She didn’t take her eyes from the road to answer.

“Wow, I’m impressed.”

“Oh yeah?” Jessie glanced at him. The smile was gone, her expression hard. “Why?”

Note to self: open mouth only to insert foot.

“I...it just seems like a big job.” Criminy.

The sardonic smile returned. She patted his hand. “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that.”

Touché.

Now he felt like a real idiot, but Jessie laughed at her own jibe, cutting his tension in half, and he chuckled along with her.

She picked up her radio and called in, to Hazel no doubt, telling her she’d picked up “the ducks.” The radio crackled in response, but Tom couldn’t make out any of the words. Jessie dropped the microphone back in its holder and looked past him at Amy again. “That hot chocolate getting you warmed up?”

Amy nodded. “Uh huh.”

Glory be, a response. Followed by another uncomfortable silence. Jessie slowed the truck for a tight s-turn.

“How’d you get stuck working through the holidays?” Even before he finished asking the question, he knew it was a mistake, but he’d lost control of his mouth. He was intrigued by this delightful contradiction of beauty and strength like he hadn’t ever been by a woman before.

“Don’t celebrate Christmas,” she answered simply.

“Are you Jewish?” Shut up, Dunham.

She glanced at him. All the sarcasm was gone, as was the glimmer in those vivid green eyes. Now they were cool, like the ocean under a stormy sky. “No, I just hate Christmas.”

Amy shot her a surprised look. “How can you hate Christmas?” Her already shrill voice hit a high-note, as though it were the most outrageous thing she’d ever heard.

For a moment Jessie’s hardness faltered. Her eyes were almost sad. No, hurt was a better way to describe them. “I’ve just had a lot of bad luck at Christmas, that’s all.”

As she looked at the road again, her face suddenly registered shock. “Oh my God!” She hit the brakes, sending the truck sliding to a stop, but not fast enough. Whatever was in the road, it made a sickening thud as it impacted the front grille.


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