To learn more about this story, set in Cole Harbour – Home of Sydney Crosby, check out its book page.
Three chapters of the Christmas adult romance have already been posted. You can read them here
The story continues with Chapter 04 – Sea-green Eyes
“Thank you, and Merry Christmas.” Jan stilled her tongue on those last words and handed the receipt to the customer. One more out of the way, she thought. Hundreds more left to serve before the craziness turned into mayhem with after Christmas sales followed by the doldrums in the new year. Smile and keep moving, she told herself. In a few weeks, it will be just a memory.
She watched customers come and go from the shop and mingle near the door, ogling the impulse sale items. A teenage girl wearing a bright pink sweater stopped and picked up a digital frame. She thrust it at her mother, a woman deep in her forties with green hair tips that sharply contrasted her blonde hair. Yet another woman reliving her teen years, Jan thought.
The mother shook her head igniting visible disgust on the teen’s face. The young girl whirled around to return the frame and bumped into a man in a blue suit entering the shop. He scrambled to catch the girl and the item. Once she had her balance, he appeared to ask if she was okay, fully knowing it had been the girl’s fault they had collided. After a quick exchange of sorries and excuse mes, the man continued towards the counter. He scanned the store as he walked, taking in the displays.
Jan watched him approach. She swore if she looked up the word refinement in the dictionary his picture would be there. The cut of his suit fit perfectly, the slim pant legs kissing the skin beneath with each stride. The open jacket revealed the length of a bright yellow tie and a hint of the well-developed body inside. The gentle smile creasing his full lips enlightened his features and placed a sparkle in his vibrant blue-green eyes. Even from this distance, they sent Jan’s blood coursing faster through her veins. She imaged how the clean-shaven chin would feel pressed against her neck as he whispered in her ear. Her body shivered at the thought.
As if this wasn’t enough to pull the fire alarm and evacuate the mall so they could be alone, his luscious dark red hair, neatly trimmed, made her want to press the panic button.
Pick me! Pick me! No, no, not that sales clerk. Patricia’s nice but she’s not me.
He nodded at Patricia, saw her busy with another customer and looked at Jan. A spark ignited, and his smile deepened. He paused, staring at her as though debating if he wanted to subject himself to the irrational female behind the counter. Was that hesitation?
Stupid girl. Stay calm. Don’t act like an idiot, or he’ll turn and run. Gosh, he’s perfect in every way. Graceful, charming and delicious without even opening his mouth.
“Hello,” he said in a smooth voice that matched his flawless appearance.
“He—hello. May I help you?”
“I’d like a few passport photos taken.” He rested his hands on the glass counter and knocked over a sign. In his attempt to grab it before it fell to the floor, he struck the display of eReader cases and sent them flying across the counter.
“Ooh!” Jan attempted to catch the colourful wave of plastic cases, but before she made any progress, he tried to help. His fingers launched the business card tray into the air where it smashed into the side of the cash register.
“Ah! Sorry! Let me get that.” He reached for the spilt cards.
Jan grabbed both his hands and forced them to be still. “Wait. Just…wait a sec.” She stared into his eyes; they were the brightest blue-green lookers she’d ever seen. They searched her eyes as if they sought the quickest and shortest route to her heart…and found it. With their faces only inches apart, she could feel the heat radiating from his scrumptious body. A lock of dark red hair fell across his forehead, highlighting his perfect complexion and the slow reddening of his skin.
“I’m sorry. My apologies. Let me—let me help you clean this up.”
“No! I mean I’ll take care of it.” She tried to take the focus off the mess. “Passports. Did you say you needed passport photos?”
He smiled. “Yes, uh—I need you—I mean two—two passport photos.” He took a deep breath. “I mean, I need you to take photos for a passport.”
“I can take them. The photos that is.” Damn he was irresistible. She’d do anything he asked; he needed only to mouth the words.
“Great! Now? Is now too soon?”
Jan shook her head. “Now is perfect.”
They stared at each other for a moment more, Jan lost in the sky blue and sea green eyes, looking for a raft to save her, and him staring back just as dumbstruck.
“But you’ll have to let me go first.”
“Oh!” Jan had forgotten she had pinned his hands to the counter. She released them, but when she saw him move to gather the business cards, she stopped him. “Wait. You only need one.” She picked up a colourful store card and placed it in his hand. “My name and number. I mean. If you need anything in the future. Like a camera or advice on passports.” She drew a deep breath to calm her nerves. “I’m the manager of this location. And that’s my card.”
“I’ll definitely be in touch.” Without looking at it, he placed the card in his coat pocket. “If I need something or other.”
“Great. Passports then?” She ushered him around the counter. “We take those back here.” She glanced at the other sales clerk. “Patricia, you’ve got the store while I’m outback.” The woman nodded, and Jan guided the man to the small room equipped to take passport photos.
“You can sit there.” Jan pointed to a stool in front of a white screen. “It’ll take a moment to set up.”
“Take your time.” He looked around as he sat down.
“Do you already have a passport?” Jan kept one eye on her delectable customer as she prepared the digital camera. His left hand was clearly visible; he wasn’t wearing a ring. This didn’t imply he was single or available. It meant only he didn’t wear a ring.
“Yes, I do. It’s about to expire.”
“Do you travel out of the country a lot,…? Um—I didn’t catch your name.”
“I think I dropped it when I knocked over the merchandise on the counter.” He blushed slightly. “Delanie Taylor. And your name?” He watched her closely, waiting for her answer.
“Jan. Simply Jan.” For once she wished she had a more glamorous name. Jan. Three letters. One syllable. Boring!
“Simply Jan. That’s unique. Did your mom or dad choose it?”
She giggled. “Mom. It’s the name of her favourite sister…her only sister.” She adjusted the setting on the camera and found her subject in the viewfinder. His animated expression widened her smile. Certainly a lucky lady had already snatched up this catch, and once caught, what woman in her right mind would release him back into the sea?
“So do you go by S.J.?”
S.J.? She laughed when she realised what he meant. “Mostly just Jan although I’m sure others might have other names for me.”
“Such as Irresistible?”
Jan raised one eyebrow and peered over the camera. The colour of his face almost matched the deep red of his hair. Flirting like this meant he couldn’t be attached. Or he played every woman. She instantly regretted the thought. It dampened her spirits.
“My apologies.” His words tumbled out. “I didn’t mean that—not that you’re not! Just that I didn’t mean to say it out loud and…” He rubbed the nape of his neck and looked around the room, trying to avoid eye contact. “I’ll sit here and shut up.”
“Okay,” she said slowly. She adjusted her position behind the tripod and focussed the lens. His image appeared deflated in the LCD screen. He sat with his shoulders slumped forward, the lock of sunset-red hair displaced still. Her training kicked in, and she decided to spruce him up, return him to his former glory of when she first laid eyes on him. “Passports always look horrible, don’t they? I hide mine away in a deep drawer.”
“Oh, I suppose. It’s only a picture. A necessity for doing business.” Delanie sat up straighter.
She stepped in front of the camera and scrutinised his position. “If you’d button your coat and sit on the tail, it’ll improve the picture.” He did what she asked, and then she directed him to move his knees a bit off centre. Taking it upon herself to tidy him up, she straightened his tie and collar and used her fingers to brush the lock of hair across his forehead back into place. At this distance, the manly odour of his cologne made her take a deep breath, pause and admire him.
“Good?” A smile played at the corner of his mouth.
“Excellent.” Jan attempted to hide her smile as she turned away. “Stay like that.” She returned to the camera, zoomed in to fill the screen and snapped the picture. “I’ll take a few and choose the best.” Leaning around the camera, she said, “You can smile or not smile. The passport people don’t care as long as you’re not wearing a fake beard and a wig.”
“No wig.” He reached up and grabbed a handful of hair and tugged. “It’s real.” He released his hair and his hand flung in the air, knocking the umbrella that reflected light behind the subject. It jangled back and forth on its support bracket. “Whoops!” He cringed and pulled his hands close to his body.
The guilty expression ignited a giggle, and Jan rolled her eyes. “You’re a walking disaster.”
“Um—well, I—I just…” Delanie paused before continuing. “Think of me as the Titanic.”
“Destined for tragedy?”
“I was thinking more of if you survived the voyage, the worst lay behind you and you’d live a fabulous life afterwards.” He looked at her hopefully.
“Well then, Titanic, your hair needs fixing.” She ran her fingers through the thick locks and settled them back into place. “Two more and we’re done.” She winked at him, snapped a few more pictures of the smiling hunk and then nodded. “It’ll take only a minute to print and cut them. You can come back for them or…”—she glanced at him—“you could wait here.”
“Good enough.” He unbuttoned his suit coat and relaxed on the stool.
Jan moved to the computer screen, called up the images and looked from one to the other, trying to choose the most suitable for a passport. They all looked terrific.
“Can I help?”
She jumped, not realising he had left the stool and now stood behind her, leaning over her shoulder. “I’m choosing the best one.”
“Oh, I see your dilemma. They’re all horrible.”
She glanced up at him, his cheek only inches away. “Horrible? They’re wonderful. The best I’ve ever taken.”
“I blame it on the photographer.” Delanie grinned. “You should do this professionally.”
Jan looked at him sideways. “This is professionally.”
“No, I mean in your own studio. Great photographers are in high demand.”
She sighed. Her dream had been to own a portrait studio, but…husband, baby and then divorce didn’t exactly give her a chance to chase that dream. Managing Dave’s shop paid the bills. There was no room for taking chances when she needed a reliable pay cheque. “I like working here. I don’t think I’d be any good with portraits.”
“I think you’d be great.” His smile along with his comment appeared genuine.
“Well, maybe someday. If the opportunity came along.” She chose an image and enlarged it. “I think this one is the best.” She half turned to him. “What do you think?”
“I agree with your professional opinion.” His eyes met hers, then swept across her face.
The heat he generated made Jan catch her breath. She should have moved, put distance between her and the customer, but she stayed put. Instead, she wouldn’t have objected if he leant forward and kissed her, but he didn’t. Returning to her senses, she cleared her throat and said, “It’s a print then.” She forced herself to look at the computer screen.
In seconds, two passport-size pictures were printed on 4×6 photographic paper. She picked up the print and waved it in the air as if to dry it, but in reality she was only buying time to organise her thoughts. Cut. The next step is to cut them to size, she told herself. She moved to the cutting table and aligned the paper in the squares. The blade came down and sliced the paper in two. Jan had worked the guillotine cutter so often she could proceed without thinking. In this situation, with her mind concentrating more on the handsome man nearby who watched her every move, she needed her hands to work without her brain.
In the next cut, the paper caught at the corner, but it didn’t damage the image. She sliced off the bent paper and proceeded to complete the trimming of the first picture. Once done, she left it on the block and began clipping the second photograph. As she brought down the blade, a hand passed in front of her view. The cut complete, she gulped when she noticed the end of a bright yellow tie sitting on the wooden platform.
“Oh!” Delanie held the passport photo in one hand and his severed tie in the other. “I only wanted to help,” he said sheepishly.
Jan held up the bottom four inches of his tie she had lopped off when it had swung beneath the blade. “I could glue it back on? Or staple it?”
“Maybe I should”—he motioned with his thumb over his shoulder—“sit down and stay out of your way before anything else gets removed.” He returned to the stool, fingering his shortened tie.
“I’m sorry about the tie.”
“Not your fault. I should thank you for not amputating a hand.”
“You’re welcome.” Jan watched his face brighten. “Amputations are extra.” She returned to her task and before long had both photos stamped, signed and inside an envelope. They returned to the front of the store where she rang in his purchase. He remained silent as he paid for the photographs although he appeared to want to speak. The noise from the busy shop invaded their space, reminding Jan Christmas shoppers were out in full force.
“Thank you,” he said when she handed him the receipt. “I—I’ll come back next year to get them taken again.”
“But Canadian passports are good for ten years.”
His gaze fell to the floor. “Oh, yeah—that’s what I…” He looked up. “Thank you.”
“Have a merry Christmas.”
Jan swallowed hard. A merry Christmas? With that one line he had transformed into just another customer. He prepared to leave, his business with her completed, and she didn’t know what to say. “Ah, thanks. Merry Christmas.” She had spoken the line a thousand times in the past month without meaning it.
“Good then.” He nodded and left.
Jan watched him go and part of her went with him. His graceful walk carried him out of the store and into the bustling mall. A jab of pain, or was it regret, shot through her, and she wanted to cry. All her life she had desired a man like him, and now he was gone.
Delanie stopped mid-stride and looked back at Dave’s Camera Shop. If he returned now, she’d think him a bigger fool than she already did. He couldn’t explain his clumsiness and his inability to carry on a normal conversation with the sales clerk. Her beauty had distracted him, scattered his brain cells and made him forget where he stood.
He cringed and shook his head, remembering the mess he had created on the counter with his blundering hands. It was as if the merchandise had jumped out at him or as if his hands had grown ten times their size and didn’t know their limits.
Titanic? What was he thinking? Many people died on that ship. What a stupid thing to say. At this moment, Jan was probably telling her co-workers all about the idiot who had tried to destroy the shop. No, he could never go back and face her.
But if he didn’t, he’d never get the opportunity to ask her out. He swallowed his pride and strode back to the store. Before entering, he glanced inside to the counter. Jan was laughing—probably at him.
A bright yellow object came near her face, and she attempted to grab it. It was the girl—the one from Dreamland of Toys—the one looking for the Knight in Shining Armour doll. Emma, Emmie, or was it Emma Lou? She had a sock puppet on her hand and was playing with Jan. They were sharing a joke.
Delanie hung back, watching the pair. If Jan was a mother, did it also mean she was married? She didn’t wear a ring. He looked when she had pinned his hands to the counter to stop him from demolishing the store.
Still, the looks she had given told him she wasn’t interested. He rolled his eyes. What they meant was she had no desire to date a bumbling fool. Maybe she’d change her mind if he located a Knight in Shining Armour doll for her daughter. With his contacts in the toy world, it’d be an easy task.
“Nice tie, Mr. Taylor.” Allison winked as she walked by with a coffee in one hand and a small paper bag in the other.
Delanie looked down as his ruined tie, buttoned his jacket to hide the mishap and left. ♥
Thank you for reading Chapter 04 of Twistmas – The Season for Love.