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The Candy Cane Kiss

The Candy Cane Kiss

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When Briarwood High's star athlete winds up in the hospital over Christmas break, he's sure that's as bad as it can get. But that's before he meets Lola...

The irritating new girl, Lola? She's volunteering as a candy striper on his floor. As if it's not bad enough that he's forced to interact with the painfully cheerful holly-jolly Christmas elf, he makes things a million times worse by kissing her to make his ex jealous.

In his defense, Lola was the only girl in the vicinity. But this argument... It does not go over well with Lola.

One thing's clear. He couldn't have chosen a worse fake girlfriend if he'd tried. But while he needs her to play along, it turns she could use his help, too. So this Christmas, they're gonna have to call a truce if they mean to get what they want...

Especially if what they want is each other.

Intro into Chapter 1

I heard the cart coming down the long hallway outside my hospital room long before it arrived. Clanking and clattering announced its arrival and my mood took a turn for the worse, if that was even possible.

Yesterday it had been a clown who’d shown up at my hospital door, on the day of my surgery. A freakin’ clown. As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough that I was in the children’s ward of Atwater Hospital, then they went and sent in the clowns.

Also, when was the last time a clown did anything other than terrify? Way to go, hospital admins, now you’ve given all the kids in this wing nightmares for the Christmas holidays. 

Ho Ho Ho.” The cheery sound came from the hallway.

Oh God, now they were sending out the Santas? Already? There was still a week to go before Christmas.

“Ho Ho Ho.” It was a girl’s voice, lowered about twenty octaves so it was comically low as it echoed off the linoleum floor and garishly painted walls.

I turned up the volume on my TV. Sports Center. Nothing more pathetic than a washed-up quarterback watching ESPN to see just what his life was missing.

Was it possible I was lying here feeling sorry for myself?

Yeah. Maybe.

It had been months since I’d been benched thanks to my shoulder injury, but it still stung. The season was over, Briarwood didn’t make it to the playoffs for the first time in forever, and the entire school was lamenting the fact that Brian Kirkland, the former star quarterback, graduated last spring.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This was my chance. I was supposed to be the phenom junior starting quarterback who took over the legacy position. I was supposed to take us all the way to state. I was supposed to—

“Knock knock!” The girl standing in the doorway wore the most ridiculous outfit I’d ever seen. A bright red Santa hat perched atop dark brown curls—they weren’t like normal curls, though. She looked like someone out of an old movie, and her old-school, cat-eye glasses only added to the effect. 

Then there was the red-and-white striped dress, which was more like a smock or a kitchen apron type of thing. Below that were red-and-white striped tights. 

She was blindingly bright. 

Her smile was even brighter than her stupid outfit. She furrowed her brow and lowered her voice but her smile never faded as she repeated her Christmas cheer. “Ho Ho Ho!” 

I stared at her. Who the hell was this? “What are you supposed to be?”

Her smile inexplicably grew in the face of my gruff question and she held her hands palm up as she shrugged. “Santa, obviously.” 

I eyed the red-and-white striped outfit that covered her from neck to toe, ending in big clunky grandma shoes. “You look like a candy cane.” 

Her smile grew even wider and she steered in the dreaded cart, which was filled with some sadistic hospital administrator’s idea of “treats.”

“It’s candy striper, actually, but still…” She whipped two candy canes from some hidden stash. “It’s funny you should say that, because I come bearing gifts.”

She held them out proudly, with a teasing grin that managed to amplify my annoyance a hundredfold. I didn’t take the proffered candy. It was rude, yes, but the arm closest to her was the injured one and it was pinned to my side to keep me from hurting it in my sleep.

Maybe if I glared long enough she’d go away. 

No such luck. She didn’t seem to notice I was glaring as she set the candy canes on the table beside my bed and started scrounging in the cart. “Let’s see, what else can I offer you?” 

“Peace,” I suggested mildly. “Silence?”

She tossed me another bright smile over her shoulder. She thought I was kidding.

I was not.

“Ooh,” she held up a pack of playing cards. “We could play rummy!”

I blinked at her and let her stew in embarrassment as my silence mocked her. Only when her cheeks flushed a pale pink did I do my worst impression of enthusiasm. “Ooh, rummy!” I echoed her words with the same breathless excitement of this weird girl who seemed to think card games were cool.

I turned back to the TV, ignoring the smile that was now frozen on her face as I turned up the volume with my free hand.

“Would you like a book?” she asked. 

I ignored her.

“A magazine?”

“How about silence,” I suggested again, my gaze never leaving the flickering TV screen even though I’d watched these highlight clips three times already today. If all went well I’d get the okay to leave tomorrow and would never have to watch basic cable or interact with crazy volunteers ever again.

I heard her sigh as she started to move. Good. Great. Get out of here, freak. 

But she didn’t leave. I heard her doing something in the corner to my right and after resisting for three long seconds, curiosity won out. “What do you think you’re doing?”

She didn’t glance back at me, which was probably for the best because she most likely would have fallen from her precarious perch if she’d tried. The red-and-white striped spectacle was perched atop the lounge chair in the corner, straining to reach the ceiling. 

That’s when I caught sight of the decorations in her hand. She had some sort of banner dangling from the corner where she was sticking a tack into the wall. 

“Oh no,” I said. “No decorations.” It was bad enough that my entire winter break from school would be spent in the hospital. There was no way I was going to pretend that this was a holly jolly time in my life.

She let out a little huff but I couldn’t tell if it was from annoyance or exertion as she strained toward the wall, balancing on one foot, the other stuck out behind her like a ballerina. The pose also gave me a better view of her ridiculous stockings and the killer thighs that they covered.

“I heard you were grumpy, but I didn’t expect you to be this bad.”

My gaze shot from her thighs to her face, but she was still facing the wall. She might have great legs but did she just call me grumpy? Grumpy? Everything in me chafed at the word, which would best suit an old man, or a dwarf, or maybe a cat. 

“Who told you that?” I snapped. “Your buddy the clown?” 

She ignored me. 

“I’m not grumpy.” My tone dripped with disdain, but she just shrugged.

“Cranky, then.”

I blinked at her. Cranky? Seriously? That was no better. I might’ve been surrounded by toddlers and little kids in the pediatrics unit, but I wasn’t a child. I was a junior in high school, a fully grown, prime-of-his-life athlete…minus the injured shoulder. I gritted my teeth. “I am not a kid.”

She turned around, hopping off the chair and giving me a smile befitting a saint. “Then stop acting like one.”

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