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The Perfect Gift

Cobblestone Press LLC

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Word Count: 4,000
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Jasmine Kincaid is spending her first Christmas alone in the bar her father ran for ever. What she hasn't told anybody, not even her friend with benefits, Kristoff, is that she's sold the bar and is ready to move on with her life. Where she's going to, she's not sure, but on Christmas Eve, all her wishes are that Kristoff will show up and save her from her loneliness.

Commander Kris 'Toff is ending his rotation of patrolling the Omega Intergalactic Trading Route. With the end of his time in the Milky Way comes a decision he's put off ever since a freak mechanical failure on his ship forced him to find sanctuary on Earth. He has met his mate. Jasmine is perfect for him. But will she agree to leave her planet to live with him?

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Excerpt

Jasmine Kincaid opened the card that had been slipped to her across the bar. This is not what I need. She gazed at the patrons. Her stare jogged from a couple chilling at a table enjoying a bottle of wine to the men sitting at the bar.

Why was it that all the hard-up kooks in Washington Grove visited Paddy’s Pub and Grill on Christmas Eve? Granted, the crowd had thinned to only a few people as the clock approached midnight. Still, she was worn out and ready to close the doors.

Couldn’t be because this is the only place open for miles, now could it, Jazzy?

She snorted when she read the wobbly script. She steered her gaze to Old Tom sitting at the end of the bar. A small chuckle escaped her throat when she reread the note. “No, I won’t buy mistletoe so you can kiss me without fear of getting clobbered.”

“Can’t blame a guy for trying, Jazzy.” Old Tom took another deep gulp of his beer. “You need to get yourself a man. Since I’m available, I thought you might…”

“Tom, I think your wife would argue your availability.” Jasmine smiled. For all his ludicrous behavior—and Tom had pulled some really beyond-the-limit-of-common-sense stunts in his time—he was harmless. “Besides, you are one of my father’s dearest friends.” Which meant nothing to Tom Meyers. Knowing she had to take a stronger hand with the lush, she sighed. “What do you think Dad would do if he was still alive?”

“Tan my hide, which is nothing less than I’d deserve.”

“He’d do more than that, and you know it, Tom,” Carey Norton said from his place on the next bar stool. Sober as always, he laughed at Tom. “You’d be on a liquid diet ’cause Jasmine’s dad would have knocked your teeth down your throat.”

Whatever.

About ready to tell them to stop, Jasmine turned toward the door when the bell rang. A spurt of hope mingled with excitement. Just as quickly as the emotions flew through her body, they disintegrated to ashes.

“He ain’t coming home tonight, Jazzy. You gotta face facts, sunshine. Your man is still doing whatever it is that he does for the government,” Carey told her.

“I’m aware.” She’d just held on to hope that somehow, someway Kristoff would manage to get home especially tonight. After all, it was her first Christmas since her father had died. Her last Christmas running the bar, but Kristoff didn’t know that yet.

She needed him.

Sniffing back tears, she wiped down the bar. Her penchant for cleaning was a leftover from the times after her mother had passed away and menial labor was her escape. It was simple—took no mental energy. It was merely something to do rather than face the cold reality she was living.

“Are you still saying that you don’t know what he does from Uncle Sam?” Tom questioned.

“I don’t.” How many times did she have to tell them the same thing? She supposed until her lips were blue and she’d been embalmed.

“I bet he’s in deep with the CIA. Makes sense, don’t you think, Tom? He’s gone for months at a time and with no explanation.”

“He’s not an agent!” Jasmine shouted. Immediately regretting her outburst, she huffed down the bar and plucked empty beer bottles from the counter. Tossing them in the recycling bin, she didn’t see the newest note to slip across the width of the polished, well-worn top until she was picking up glasses.

Who now? She slashed her gaze over the few stragglers still nursing their drinks. Breaking the seal on the envelope, she slid the plain bi-fold piece of heavy card stock from its home and flipped it open.

Get rid of your customers. I have a surprise for you.

It was signed simply K. Reading the note again, and then rereading it, barely able to digest the truth her lover was somewhere close by, she bit back on a smile.

Whoa. He’s home.

Quelling the urge to clap her hands and dance a little jig, Jasmine tucked the card into the pocket of her apron and went to work clearing the counter. “Okay, guys, time to go.”

“Aw, Jazzy, don’t be like this. It was only a harmless joke,” Tom whined.

“Nope. Time for you to get home to your wife.” She snatched Carey’s glass from his hand. “Merry Christmas, everybody,” she called as the bar started to clear. “Drive safely.” Or in Tom’s case, hopefully shuffle home without landing in the path of an oncoming semi. “Carey, can you make sure Tom gets home all right?”

Deep in her soul, she knew she’d never forgive herself if any of her patrons, whether new to Paddy’s or a regular, ever got killed because they’d had one too many. It was one of the reasons she’d decided to sell the place. There were too many memories here, too much risk, too. “Please.”

“Sure thing, sunshine,” Carey said with a nod and a smile. “It’s right on my way. Come on, old man, let’s git before Jazzy cracks you upside your pointed head with a baseball bat.”

Thanks, she mouthed to him.

He sent her a wink. “Merry Christmas, Jazzy.”

“Same to you.” Hurrying around the bar, she flicked the Open sign’s switch off. She quickly and efficiently closed the shades on the front windows—a definite signal to Washington Grove’s inhabitants that she wasn’t allowing any more paying customers inside. Unable to contain her excitement, she squealed with delight before she rushed around the tables, cleaning up.

Sure, she wanted to know where he’d been, what he’d been up to, if he’d found someone else. Hell no. She wouldn’t even go there. Truthfully, she didn’t know if she could take it.

It was her fault anyway. When he’d approached her three years ago, she’d been fresh out of junior college and didn’t really have a plan in mind except to work at Paddy’s. The only thing she was sure of was that she didn’t want was a hot and heavy relationship.

Hot she could handle.

Long-term wasn’t in her personal make up at that point in her life. Back then, she’d wanted to see what was up with the big bad world. Maybe do some traveling. The farthest she’d made it was Scranton, and her world travels were limited to watching shows on cable and checking out blogs.

A couple of the old matrons called her loose. Not because she slept around but because she was out of their antiquated scope.

Truthfully, she and Kristoff had a somewhat strange relationship in terms of exclusivity. He came and went. She was the constant.

Still, it didn’t matter. He was home. He was here. That was the important part of it.

The bells rang again.

Spinning around, her heart hitched in her chest. “Kristoff,” she whispered. If it was possible, he was more handsome than the last time he’d graced the interior of Paddy’s. Dumping the teetering tower of glasses in the bin tucked underneath the bar, she couldn’t take her eyes off him. She’d always debated which was his best attribute: his stunning gray eyes or his broad shoulders. There was no doubt his cock was impressive, and his ability in bed was indescribable.

She opened her mouth to ask him how he was when he strode forward. Tears of joy wavered in her eyes. “Thank you,” she said in a barely audible whisper.

“For?” he asked.

“Being here.”

“Did you think I’d abandon you?”

“No, but I was starting to worry. When I didn’t hear from you last weekend…”

He hauled her across the counter and planted her butt on the bar stool. Easing her legs apart with his heavily muscled thigh, he cupped her head in his huge hands. “I missed you, too.”

His lips took hers in an openly carnal kiss. Clutching his shoulders, her fingers curled into the soft wool of his overcoat. Tiny tremors of expectation tripped up her inner thighs to tingle along her feminine folds.

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