Read Holiday Sparks Online

Authors: Shannon Stacey

Holiday Sparks

Holiday Sparks

By Shannon Stacey

House-sitting for her parents seemed like a good idea, until the microwave blew up and the lights went out.

Now Chloe Burke thinks upgrading the electrical system of her childhood home while they are away would make the perfect Christmas gift. Fortunately, there’s an electrician in town who can get the job done by the holidays.

Scott Quinn has wanted to get his hands on the Burkes’ wiring for almost as long as he’s wanted to get his hands on their daughter. Chloe didn’t notice Scott back in high school, but she’s noticing him now, and soon they’re indulging in a little festive fun: no strings, no expectations. After all, Chloe plans to get out of this goldfish bowl of a town and back to her real life in Boston by New Year’s.

But Chloe and Scott discover they enjoy each other’s company just as much
out
of bed. Could their holiday fling turn out to be the real thing?

 

Dear Reader,

There’s something magical about the holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas or Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or Diwali. The energy and excitement surrounding these holidays charges the air and our emotions, providing a perfect platform for romance and love. So I knew we couldn’t let Carina Press’s first holiday season pass without celebrating it with a collection of special novella releases.

This holiday season, celebrate with our first collection of invitation-only novellas. We’ve pulled together eleven talented authors and author duos, all of whom have made their mark in their respective niches, and invited them to transport our readers with holiday delights. In
Naughty and Nice,
join Jaci Burton, Lauren Dane, Megan Hart and Shannon Stacey as they show you both the sensual and sweet sides of the holidays. Visit post-apocalyptic worlds and paranormal beings in an enchanted journey with authors Vivi Andrews, Moira Rogers and Vivian Arend in
Winter Wishes.
And celebrate the beauty of the season in
His for the Holidays
with m/m authors Josh Lanyon, Z.A. Maxfield, Harper Fox and LB Gregg.

Through the talent of their writing and their captivating storytelling, I believe you’ll find something in each of these special novellas to put you in the magic of the holiday moment.

Wishing you the happiest of holiday seasons.

~Angela

Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com

www.twitter.com/carinapress

www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

For Annmarie, one of the most joyful people I know. Your warmth, humor and generosity of spirit are like a little bit of Christmas, all the year round. And for the real Kojak. Even after twenty-three years or so, I still miss you.

Chapter One

House sitting her childhood home seemed like a good idea until the microwave blew up and the lights went out.

Okay, so the microwave didn’t exactly
blow up
—it was more of a
pop
—and it wasn’t
all
of the lights, but Chloe Burke wouldn’t be trusting her laptop to her parents’ kitchen outlets anytime soon. It was still light outside, but on an early December day in Maine darkness fell fast and early, so she grabbed a flashlight before venturing down into the basement.

Where she found some ancient, round, screw-in things instead of a neat row of circuit breakers. Since her skill set ran to designing websites rather than poking her fingers into faulty electrical systems, it was time to call a professional.

The phonebook was in the same kitchen drawer phonebooks had been kept in for as long as Chloe could remember, and a handwritten sheet of frequently used numbers was still tucked inside the cover. The paper wasn’t yellow and didn’t fall apart in her hand, so hopefully the info was from the current decade at least. And because her parents were more than comfortable in the ‘80s, they still had an old-fashioned, corded phone that didn’t need juice to work. That was good since her cellphone’s battery was almost dead.

The name of the company she remembered her parents using had been crossed out and a new name—Quinn Electric—and a number were squeezed in next to
electrician
. The name was familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it. A friend of her dad, maybe.

Despite the fact it was probably past regular business hours, the phone was answered on the second ring. “Quinn Electric.”

An incredibly sexy voice, so probably not one of her dad’s VFW buddies. “Hi. I know it’s late, but I think I have an electrical problem. I turned the microwave on and the lights went out.”

“That’s definitely an electrical problem.”

Under the initial sexy impact, his voice was warm and had a touch of humor that had her twirling the cord around her finger like a teenage girl. “The furnace is still running, so I guess it’s not an emergency, but—”

“Where’s your house?”

“It’s actually my parents’ house.” She gave him the address and crossed her fingers. Maybe it wasn’t really an emergency, but she wasn’t a big fan of the dark, either.

He chuckled, a delicious sound that seemed to vibrate through the phone line and into her body. “This must be Chloe. Did John and Anna at least get on their ship before you broke their house?”

The curse of the small town. “Yes, they’re safely at sea. And I checked the electrical box, by the way. Or I tried to, but I didn’t find circuit breakers, which I at least know what to do with.”

“I’ve been trying to talk your old man into ditching those old fuses and upgrading his service for a while, but he’s, uh…”

“Cheap?”

“I was going to say frugal.”

“I’m not, so can we set up a time for you to fix the fuse or whatever it is you have to do to get my lights back on?”

“I just finished up at the Fosters, so I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“Oh. Can’t beat that kind of service.”

“I aim to please,” he said and, maybe it was her imagination, but it sounded like his voice had dropped an octave, into the bedroom voice range.

Which was ridiculous, she thought as they hung up. He didn’t know her and a guy didn’t build a business by throwing innuendo at potential customers. Besides, knowing her luck, the man wouldn’t live up to the voice. He’d probably have a beer gut and an ample display of hairy ass crack.

While she waited for the guy aiming to please her to show up, she carried in her luggage and set it in the living room. The laptop case she left on the dining room table. Maybe he’d please her by testing outlets and finding her one that wouldn’t fry her computer.

It wasn’t until she dumped the road trip coffee she’d been trying to reheat in the microwave down the drain that she saw the note next to the sink. It was still fairly light outside, but dark enough in the kitchen now that she needed the flashlight to make it out.

Hi, honey. The house isn’t as young as it used to be, so a few things. Don’t turn on the microwave if the light over the kitchen sink is on. Only step on the right side of the second step down of the back porch stairs. And don’t use the dryer at all. Fixing that outlet’s on your father’s to-do list, but for now he duct taped the door closed so you can’t forget. We’ll see you Christmas Eve day.

Love, Mom.

PS. You can’t use a blow dryer in the bathroom if the light’s on. If you leave the door open, there’s enough light from the hallway to dry your hair.

Great. Three weeks of stiff, air-dried clothes and bad hair. And while they’d been making regular trips down to Boston and crashing in the guest bedroom of her cute, rented condo, her parents’ house was falling down around their ears and they hadn’t said a thing.

It wasn’t a very promising start to her holiday adventure.

* * *

Scott Quinn pulled up in front of the Burke house, half of which was dark, and killed his engine. “This is a fantasy for the ages, Kojak. Chloe Burke. An emergency house call. Maybe I should leave you in the truck.”

The big German Shepherd snorted and pawed at his door, waiting to be let out. He wouldn’t enter a customer’s house without an invitation, but he didn’t sit in the truck like some wussy lap dog, either.

If teenaged Scott had known he’d become an electrical contractor someday, imagining an emergency house call from Chloe Burke definitely would have added to the number of hours he spent locked in the bathroom. She’d been the most frequently recurring guest star of his adolescent mental porn, though she’d been friendlier in his mind—as in she’d at least noticed he was alive.

While they were from the same small town, they’d gone to the big regional school, thrown in with kids from other small towns. There was no shortage of guys hotter than him to keep her distracted.

He hadn’t seen her, even from a distance, in a few years though. Maybe she’d let herself go and he could get through the service call without having to hold his tool bucket in front of him like a math book.

As soon as she opened the front door, he flashed back to a favorite fake memory involving Chloe, who wasn’t really his girlfriend, and the backseat of a convertible Mustang that also wasn’t his.

Ten years later, he was pretty sure she’d still look good kneeling on the seat, facing the trunk with her hands clutching the bunched canvas of the car’s lowered top. She was tall and still as slim as when she’d worn that skimpy cheerleading skirt that made him choke on his tongue, and the blond hair he’d spent many a school day mentally running his fingers through hung straight and thick to the shoulders of her beige sweater.

And her blue eyes, not surprisingly, didn’t reveal a hint of recognition.

“You must be Mr. Quinn.”

“Since we went to school together, you can probably call me Scott.”

She was cute when she frowned. “We did?”

Unlike her, he’d changed since high school. Time at the gym and working for a living had given him some muscle tone. Working for a living had also provided him with the money for a real barber. His mother hadn’t literally used a bowl, but the results still weren’t pretty. And Lasik surgery had rid him of the hated Coke-bottle glasses, so now she could actually see the brown eyes that matched the hair.

“We had three classes together senior year,” he said. “We traveled in different circles, though.”

“Oh. We must have because I definitely wouldn’t have forgotten you.”

Good thing she hadn’t looked at him like that back in high school or he would have spontaneously erupted in his pants. As it was, he shifted his tool bucket a few inches to the left, just in case. “Guess I’ll change that fuse for you before it gets any darker.”

She moved aside, then noticed his shadow. “Does he want to come in too?”

“Only if you don’t mind. He’s my assistant, Kojak.” He tried his best not to lean in to smell Chloe’s sexy perfume as he went by her.

“Come on in, Kojak.” His dog showed no such restraint, giving the pretty lady a few sniffs before strolling into the foyer.

When Scott set the tool bucket next to the basement door, Kojak stretched out beside it and dropped his head onto his front paws. Scott grabbed his flashlight and one of the spare fuses he kept in his truck, along with a telescoping duster, just in case there were cobwebs. He didn’t mind spiders too much, but he hated cobwebs and wasn’t about to walk through a sticky curtain of them.

It took him less than ten minutes to change the fuse and get Chloe’s lights back on, and that included a few minutes to look around the basement. The Burkes’ ancient knob and tube wiring, along with the fuses and too-small service, made him cringe. He liked John and Anna, but John wasn’t getting any younger and their wiring had rounded the corner from obsolete to decrepit and was heading for fire hazard.

“So this is awkward,” Chloe said when he’d climbed the stairs and closed the basement door behind him, “but I use my debit card for everything in the city and I just realized getting cash is one of the things I haven’t crossed off my to-do list yet.”

In the horny, less mature recesses of his mind, the crappy porn music started playing. Chloe would pop the buttons on her jeans. Slowly drag down her zipper while asking him in a pouty voice if there was
any
other way she could make good on the services rendered.

“No charge,” the mature, if still horny, Scott said. “You’re between where I was and where I was going, and it only took a few minutes. John can spot me a coffee at the Diner someday for the cost of the fuse.”

“I appreciate that.” She leaned against the doorjam and crossed her arms in a way that made it very, very hard not to look at her breasts. “How much would it cost to rewire this place, do you think? And what would the chances be of having done before my parents get back?”

“When are they coming back?”

“Christmas Eve day.”

“It could be done in time. People are paying heating bills and buying Christmas presents in December, not worrying about bad outlets and having ceiling fans installed.” And three weeks with Chloe Burke? That was worth a discount. “I couldn’t give you a price off the cuff, though. I could get you an estimate tomorrow.”

“I’d appreciate it. It’s going to be a lot more than I’d intended to spend on a Christmas gift, but it’s better than lying awake every night wondering if my parents’ house burned down around their ears yet.”

“You don’t get back here much, huh?”

She shrugged—another gesture that made it hard not to look at her breasts. Or maybe he just found it hard not to, period. “My mom loves the city, so they usually come down for a weekend every month. And they both love Christmas there, so…yeah, it’s been a while. If they hadn’t gone on this cruise, I still wouldn’t know what bad shape the house is in.”

“Hopefully I’ll come in at a price you like and we can take care of that for them. Or the electrical part of it, at least.”

They said goodbye and he promised to be in touch with the estimate. Once he and Kojak were in the truck, he turned to the dog and smiled. “I think she likes me.”

His supposed best friend snorted and looked out the passenger window.

* * *

Chloe woke the next morning to her cellphone ringing on the bedside table and she groaned when she saw
Mom
in the caller ID window. “Hi, Mom. How’s the cruise?”

“Wonderful! I even got your father to dance with me. How come Scott Quinn was at the house last night?”

The grapevine could use some serious weed control. “I blew a fuse.”

“Didn’t you read my note?”

“Not until after I blew the fuse.” She threw back the covers and scrubbed at her face. “It wasn’t a big deal. He changed the fuse and it’s all good.”

“I’ve been after your father for years to fix the wiring. I think he’s afraid of getting zapped.”

“Which is why the world has electricians, Mom.”

“You know your father. He’s more of a do-it-yourself type.”

Chloe wasn’t sure you were a do-it-yourself type if you didn’t actually
do
it, but she didn’t debate semantics before coffee. “I’ve read your note now, so your fuses should be safe.”

“That Scott Quinn, he’s a good-looking young man, isn’t he?”

Ah, the fix-up. And not just any fix-up, but with a local. She must not have thought that one all the way through because, if Chloe moved back to Maine, where would Mom stay—for free—in Boston? “He’s not bad, I guess.”

If one’s standard of
not bad
meant so hot she’d tossed and turned half the night, trying not to think about how he turned more than just her lights on. And that was
after
she wasted over an hour trying to find her yearbooks. The name was still familiar, but she couldn’t match it up mentally with what a teenage Scott would have looked like.

“Has he ever been married?” she heard herself ask before she could throw the brakes on the question.

Her mother pounced on the opening. “Never married. He had a girlfriend for a long time, but she kept nagging him to go live in a city somewhere and he kept saying no, so eventually she went without him. He’s a wicked nice man and he earns a decent living too.”

Good manners and good money. Her parents were so desperate for a grandchild now, that was as high as their standards went for a prospective son-in-law. “I’m only here until Christmas, Mom. I was just curious, that’s all.”

Chloe made her way to the kitchen while her mother went on and on about the cruise. She needed coffee. Desperately.

“We met the nicest people last night and we were standing right there with them, at the all you can eat luau buffet, when their daughter called to tell them they were going to be grandparents. Isn’t that exciting?”

“Sure is.” She tried to sound enthusiastic, even though it was one of the least subtle hints her mom had thrown out there, but it wasn’t easy pre-caffeine. To be on the safe side, she rummaged for the instant coffee and put on the teakettle, rather than risking turning the coffeemaker on and blowing another fuse.

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