For me, there’s nothing like a manly man hero who when forced out of his comfort zone discovers the sensitive and caring man below the surface, and then actually allows that man to emerge. Here’s my hero, the tough Detective Spinelli, showing that trait as he’s forced to go undercover as Santa Claus to help catch a killer and protect his new love interest. Playing Santa Claus is certainly not Spinelli’s thing, but when he recognizes three children in line waiting to see him his heart swells to twice its normal size. These three children are those he and Caseworker O’Hara had removed from the home of their drug addicted parents only a couple of days prior.
Detective Spinelli's life is tossed sideways when he is reassigned from the Homicide division to assist in the Child Services division of the Social Services Department for the holiday season. From the beginning, Spinelli and Caseworker Shannon O'Hara generate their own kind of fireworks, causing more than the normal workplace stress. They both have their own philosophies for dealing with the clientele. However, the forces of nature have their own plan for Spinelli and Shannon.
Shannon moonlights as Santa Claus' little helper at the mall, and when Santa and an elf turn up dead Shannon appears to be next on the killer's list. Spinelli is placed back on homicide and goes undercover as Santa to help capture the killer. He catches a great deal of grief along the way but will he capture the heart of his little Santa's helper as well?
Spinelli hurried to the employee locker room, strapped on his fat suit and buried it under his Santa suit and then hustled to the North Pole display where he found a line of children at least a mile long waiting for his arrival. He dreaded the next four hours. He hoped it wouldn’t be as bad as the previous day. He took his seat in the velvet chair and nodded in the direction of the two elves. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his little Santa helper appear from behind the candy cane field. Just like the day before, the sight of her in her short little red dress sucked the air right out of his lungs and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t seem to fill them.
Shannon walked up to Spinelli, smiled softly and placed her hand lightly on his shoulder to get his attention. “Are you ready Santa?”
The touch of her hand sent a ripple of warmth flowing throughout his body. He worked hard to find a controlled voice. “Yes, I’m ready.”
Like the day before, she strolled over to the eager children and began moving them toward him.
Spinelli glanced over the line. There were so many kids. Where did they all come from? A familiar face caught his attention. It was Lesha Washington. Her brother Darius stood next to her. The tall dark-haired woman he’d met two days earlier at the foster home held baby Christina on her hip. A young boy he didn’t recognize stood next to her. Was that her child or another foster child as well?
Shannon plopped a little boy on Spinelli’s lap. The enthusiastic little fellow rattled off his wish list before Santa even had a chance to ask for it.
Children came and went. With each passing child, Spinelli felt a bit more comfortable in this new role. It wasn’t so bad. All he really had to do to make the kids happy was let out an occasional mighty “Ho, ho, ho” followed by a belly jiggling laugh, and the kids did the rest.
The Washington kids drew closer. They were laughing, all of them, even the foster mom. They seemed happy. Spinelli wondered if those kids had ever been truly happy in their short lives. If not, now maybe they stood a chance. The foster mom crouched down in front of Lesha. Lesha whispered something into her ear. The woman smiled, kissed her on the cheek and hugged her before she stood up again. Lesha reached out and took the woman’s hand. Darius held Lesha’s other hand. They’d only been in foster care for a couple of days, yet something already seemed different about them.
A few more kids passed by Spinelli. Now it was the Washington kid’s turn.
As they approached, Lesha zeroed in on Shannon. “Hi Ms. O’Hara.”
Shannon smiled. “Well hello there Le…”
Spinelli cut her off, “Don’t tell me. Is that Lesha Washington?”
Lesha’s eyes widened and she flashed him a humungous smile. Darius slid behind her.
“Where did that little brother of yours go?” Santa asked as he leaned over and peeked around Lesha. He caught Darius’ gaze. “Come on over here Darius and tell Santa what you want for Christmas.
“Go on, go tell Santa what you want,” Lesha urged her little brother.
Darius walked up to Santa. Shannon lifted him up and placed him on Santa’s lap. Spinelli caught and held his gaze. The fear in Darius’ eyes faded. He smiled and asked for a fire truck before he slid off Santa’s lap and ran back to his foster mom.
Spinelli looked at Lesha. She pointed at the other little boy with them. “Samuel can go next. He’s been so excited all day to see you.”
Was this how it was? Already the little mother hen at only seven years old. Spinelli’s heart went out to her. He hoped she would get a childhood, the normal kind, where kids laugh and play, and where parents take care of their kids and love them. Something he never knew.
Samuel darted over to Santa and hopped up onto his lap and offered his Christmas list. Samuel finished quickly and scooted back down.
Spinelli looked at Lesha. She seemed to be studying him. She shifted her gaze to Shannon. Shannon stepped toward her, took her hand, and led her to Santa. Spinelli pulled her up onto his lap. Shannon stood by their side.
Lesha caught his gaze and held it, her eyes inquisitive. Did she know who he really was? How could she?
Spinelli softened his voice, “Well Lesha, I’ve had my eye you. It seems you’ve had a pretty tough year and through it all you’ve been a very good girl. And you’ve kept an eye on your little brother and sister, and took care of them. I’m very proud of you. Now tell me, what do you want for Christmas?”
She looked up at him with her big brown eyes. He decided in this instant that whatever this little girl wanted she was going to get. He’d run out tomorrow and buy it and make sure it made under her tree on Christmas morning.
Lesha brushed his hair back and whispered into his ear. A lump formed in his throat. He wasn’t sure how to respond. He glanced at Shannon and caught her curious gaze. He’d tell her what Lesha asked for later, she’d need to know. He turned back to Lesha, “I’ll see what I can do, Sweetheart.”
She kissed him on the cheek and slid off his lap.
Spinelli stared after the foster family as they walked away. He’d give anything to make good on her Christmas wish, he knew how she felt. He’d been there himself in the past.
Four hours later, he wished for toothpicks to prop his eyelids open. He rose from his chair and sauntered toward the elves that stood by the display’s Christmas tree as they ogled Shannon and made small talk with her. Spinelli’s pure exhaustion did not prevent his jealous juices from finding their way to the surface.
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Cookies for Santa is the first title in the Nick Spinelli Mystery Series. The second novella, Craving Vengeance, A Nick Spinelli Mystery, is scheduled for release by Melange Books in fall of 2013.
Valerie's giving away a copy of Cookies for Santa (pdf version) to one lucky commenter! Through Friday, winner picked by random number Saturday. (Please leave your email if you want Valerie to contact you directly if you win.)
Valerie Clarizio lives in beautiful Door County Wisconsin with her husband and extremely spoiled cat. She loves to read, write, and spend time at her cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She's lived her life surrounded by men, three brothers, a husband, and a male Siamese cat who required his own instruction manual. Keeping up with all the men in her life has turned her into a successful hunter and fisherwoman.
Valerie is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Wisconsin Romance Writers of America.
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