Holly Ackerman has scratched and clawed her way into the position as an anchorwoman at a local TV station, but along the way, she's passed up marriage and family.
Now, on Christmas Eve, which is also her forty second birthday, she can feel all she's worked so hard to achieve slipping away. When an unbelievable encounter with a very real Santa Claus gives her a second chance at love, she must decide whether to give up her hard-won past for a storybook future.
Holly Ackerman took a sip of her gin and tonic and surveyed the sparse, aging crowd with a grimace. Only lonesome losers with thinning hair and thickening middles frequented nightclubs on Christmas Eve.
She wasn’t sure why she’d come tonight, except that she didn’t want to be alone. On her birthday. Again.
Her forty-second birthday.
The only difference between her and the balding, overweight men around her was that her job forced her to stay slim and youthful. While her co-anchor, Don, could go gray and gain gravitas in the process, there was no such thing as graceful aging for a woman on television. The station manager had warned her last year that she was starting to look closer to thirty than twenty, and they’d have to look for a replacement if she didn’t do something to reverse the decline.
Holly scowled into her drink. They’d probably hire some blonde spokesmodel with big tits and small brains to replace her within a year or two. The writing was on the wall.
And then what would she have? Oh, they’d keep her on as a reporter, letting her do special interest stories and investigative reports, but that wasn’t what she’d busted her ass for over the last fifteen years. Wasn’t what she’d given up having a husband and family of her own for.
Now, she was forty-two. She knew the statistics. She had a better chance of dying in a plane crash than of finding a husband. And having a baby? Absurd.
No, the best she could hope for was someone to share her bed for a few weeks or months. That would have to be enough.
But she wasn’t going to find it here. At least not tonight.
She drained her tumbler and set it on the bar behind her. Tomorrow, she’d have to be at her parents’ house at the butt-crack of dawn to watch her niece and nephews crowd around the tree, squealing with glee as they ripped into piles and piles of brightly colored packages. The event always made her feel like the Grinch grumbling about the Whos down in Whoville liking Christmas a lot. It wasn’t that she begrudged her brother and sister their picture-perfect families or that she didn’t want their kids to be happy. It was just that the revelry of Christmas Day made her ten times more aware of what she would never have.
What she’d given up by her own choice.
“Hey there, pretty lady.” A tall man wearing an expensive suit standing next to her shouted the words over the thump of mindless music. He looked to be in his mid-forties, blond hair thinning but thankfully not combed over, with a fit frame and dark tan that suggested a surfer. She might have found him attractive if she couldn’t tell from the angle of his gaze that he was talking to her cleavage.
How would men like it, she wondered, if she pulled out the waistband of their trousers and shouted into their pants?
“Name’s Phil,” he went on, still chatting with her chest. “What’re you having?”
Except for his inability to make eye contact, she had to admit he was smooth. Too bad he was also smarmy. Probably lived in La Jolla, she thought with a smirk. Windansea Beach, most likely.
She shook her head and hopped off her barstool. “Thanks for the offer, Phil, but I was just leaving.”
He blocked her path as she started for the door. “Hey, hey, what’s the rush? The night’s young. Santa won’t be coming for hours, but I could have you coming in no time at all.”
Ugh. Talk about a groaner of a pick-up line. “I’m not interested,” she assured him firmly, pushing him out of her way with a hand to the shoulder.
Apparently, Phil wasn’t good at taking no for an answer, because he caught up and fell in step beside her. “C’mon, baby, don’t play hard to get.”
She stopped short and pinned him with a hard glare. “I’m not playing.”
This time, at least, he was looking at her face. He raised his hands in a gesture of apology. “Okay, okay.” A flicker of recognition crossed his features. “Hey, wait a minute. You’re that chick from the Channel 9 News.” He snapped his fingers. “Ivy something.”
God, what was the point in her job if no one could even remember her name? All they remembered was long brown hair, big blue eyes, and perky tits.
“Holly Ackerman,” she said with disgust. “And I am not a chi—” Her cell phone vibrated, cutting her off. She dropped her purse from her shoulder and dug the whirring cell from her purse, grateful for the interruption. This conversation with Phil was getting stupider and more annoying by the second. The caller ID displayed the late night news producer’s number.
Reflexively, she checked her watch. It was after midnight. Why the hell was Debora calling her? Holly had been off work for more than an hour. She had half a mind to ignore the call, but at least taking it would get Phil the Pill off her back.
“I’m sorry, Phil, but I have to take this call.”
Flipping the phone open, she raised it to her ear as she headed out the door and onto the sidewalk in front of the club. “Hey, Deb. What’s up?”
“Whew,” Deb breathed from the other end of the line. “I’m glad I caught you. You headed home?”
Holly stepped off the curb and crossed the near-deserted street toward the parking garage where she’d left her car. Any other night, the Gaslamp District would have been crowded with bar-hoppers and club-junkies, but tonight, the streets were virtually empty.
“Yeah, Deb. What’s up?”
“You live near Balboa Park, right? West side, off Sixth Avenue?”
Holly nodded in answer despite the fact that Deb couldn’t see her. “Uh huh. Why?”
“Well, it’s probably just a prank, but something about the guy’s voice—”
“Whoa, wait a sec. What guy’s voice?”
“Sorry, Holl. You’re going to think I’m nuts.”
I already think you’re nuts. Whose idea was it for the anchorwoman to do a feature on adult book and sex toy shops, huh?
“Just spill it. I’m not getting any younger, you know.” She heard Deb cough back laughter. They’d shared many a chuckle in the past about the relative longevity of a woman’s career depending on being behind the camera instead of in front of it.
“Okay, so humor me here,” Deb said, her voice dropping almost to a whisper. “A couple of minutes ago, some guy called the station, asking for a producer, saying he had the news story of the century. He’s probably just some kind of crank, but he swears he saw a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer fly by his window.”
Holly grimaced. If this was what the producer was calling her about at midnight, Holly’s career was way past over. “You have got to be kidding me.”
“Wait, hear me out. I told you you’d think I was nuts, but something about the way he described what he saw... I don’t know, I believed him. And I can’t see what’s in it for him. He didn’t even leave a name.”
“Then why are you calling me?”
“Because he said the sleigh landed in a clearing on the west side of Balboa Park, across the street from the playground on Sixth Avenue. Near your house. And that he thought it looked like they were having trouble staying airborne before they landed.”
Holly reached the six-story concrete garage in which she’d parked her Prius and pressed the button for the elevator. “So?”
“Sooooo...” Deb dragged out the word so long, the elevator doors opened before she was done. “So, if he’s right, and you get there before they fix whatever’s wrong, Channel 9 could have the scoop to end all scoops.”
Inside the elevator, Holly pushed the button for her floor. “You are not seriously asking me what I think you are, are you? Please say you’re not.”
“What’s the harm in it, Holl?” Deb had gone into full pleading mode, her tone wheedling and conciliatory. “Just drive by the spot. It’s on your way home. If you see anything out of the ordinary, snap a few pictures or take some video. And call me.”
Holly couldn’t believe she was falling for this. Or that Deb was even asking. But at the same time, what was the harm? Her little two-bedroom bungalow was five blocks from the place the caller had described.
“All right, I’ll do it. But you owe me a triple latte with extra foam.”
“Done. Thanks, Holl. You’re a peach.”
Yeah, she was a peach, all right. And if anyone at the station found out she’d gone on this wild reindeer chase, her life and her career would be a pit.