Fireman Grayson Tanner only fears one thing. His mother’s wrath. When he accidentally sets her tree on fire two days before Christmas, he knows he has to fix things fast. There’s just one problem. The best tree farm in town is owned by his ex-girlfriend’s family, and Gray hasn’t been there in twenty years, not since Cynthia broke his heart and laughed at his proposal. But he’ll do anything for his mom — even face his demons. The last thing he expects to find at the farm is an angel with a smile that could melt the iciest of hearts.
Miranda Carlton has always been a disappointment to her parents — not that she cares much. Cynthia and Rick Carlton only care about their money and their social standing, neither of which has ever impressed Miranda. Little did she realize working her grandfather’s tree farm would give her the one thing her life has always been missing — a man who sees her for who she is. She doesn’t care that there’s twenty years between them, or that he used to date her mother. All she knows is the best Christmas present in the world would be Gray, and she’ll do anything to get him.
Copyright ©2017 Paige Warren
He was completely and totally fucked.
Gray absently rubbed his chin as he stared at the charred tree. His mother’s favorite ornaments had been on there, and the star she’d had since forever. In his defense, how was he supposed to know the damn thing hadn’t been watered and would go up in flames from the slightest spark? Live trees were supposed to have water. He was certain there was a rule about it. Maybe he should have paid a little more attention to the tree before lighting the fire, but he wasn’t taking all the blame for this one.
It could have been worse. There could have been presents under there.
He surveyed the damage and wondered how the hell he was coming out of this unscathed. What exactly was the going punishment for torching your mom’s favorite decorations? And two days before Christmas at that. She’d be hard-pressed to find another tree this late in the season, especially one as nice as this had been. All that would be left were the small, scrawny trees.
“Grayson Keats Tanner! What the hell did you do?” his mother demanded from the doorway.
He winced and stared at the tree, or what remained of it.
“My Christmas party is tomorrow night. How am I supposed to have a Christmas party without a tree? Where are the presents supposed to go?” she asked.
“I’ll find you a tree,” he said.
“The only way you’re finding a tree like that one this close to Christmas is if you go to the woods and chop one down. And with my luck, you’d find one with a family of squirrels nesting in it and then my entire house would be destroyed and not just the damn tree.”
“I can fix this, Mom.”
“Really,” he said. “I’ll scour every tree lot until I find the right tree.”
“The only tree that’s going in my house is from the Baker Farm,” his mom said. “You do remember where that is, don’t you?”
Oh hell no.
“Does it have to be the Baker Farm?” he asked.
Fucked didn’t begin to describe his life in that moment. He hadn’t been to the Baker Farm since Cynthia Baker had laughed at his proposal and informed him she was fucking his best friend. That had been his sophomore year of college, but some wounds never healed. It wasn’t that he was pining after the bitch, he just really never wanted to see her again, and with it being the holidays, she was bound to be at her parents’ place.
“The Baker Farm, Gray. Or don’t show up for Christmas.”
Damn. That was cold.
Gray resigned himself to his fate. He hauled the burnt tree, ornaments and all, out to the curb — something his buddies at the fire department would never let him live down — then got in his truck to drive out past the town limits. The Baker Farm was two miles outside of town, and he hadn’t been there since Cynthia Baker had broken his heart. Getting there wasn’t a problem. It might have been a few years… or twenty, but he’d been to the Baker Farm so many times in his youth, he could find it in his sleep.
Cynthia had been his high school girlfriend, and he’d hoped she’d become his fiance and later his wife. He should have known a fireman wouldn’t be good enough for the likes of her. His best friend, Rick Carlton, had been studying at the same college. Pre-law. His betrayal had probably hurt more than Cynthia’s. Gray had been told countless times what kind of woman she was, but he’d hoped his love would be enough for her. Until he’d had it thrown back in his face.
He hadn’t seen either Cynthia or Rick since that day. They’d left town, and from what he’d heard, they’d gotten married and had a baby. Hell, she’d probably been pregnant with his best friend’s kid when he’d asked her to marry him. How fucked up was that? It had been a really long time ago, though. Gray was forty now and not some college kid ready to take on the world. He’d graduated top of his class with a degree in Fire Science and had gone on to join the local fire department. He’d been offered the captain’s job last year but had turned it down, not wanting to deal with all the politics that would go with the position.
He pulled down the drive of the Baker Farm and came to a stop near the tree lot. As he got out of the truck, he took in the pathetic offerings that were left this near the holidays, and knew his mother wasn’t going to be happy. And when Margaret Tanner wasn’t happy, no one was happy. He browsed the lot, hoping for a miracle.
“May I help you?” a soft voice called out behind him.
Gray turned. And froze. His gaze scanned the woman from the top of her curly, blonde hair to the tips of her worn boots. Denim hugged her curves and showcased legs that any sane man would want wrapped around him. Dragging his gaze upward, he lingered a moment on the hourglass shape that even her coat couldn’t hide, before stopping on a face so beautiful his breath faltered.
She smiled, amusement shining in her blue eyes, and he realized he was staring like an idiot. He fought the urge to check his chin for drool.
“I need a tree,” he said. “A big, fat one.”
“And you waited until now to pick one out?” she asked.
“Not exactly. The other one had an unfortunate accident, which might have been my fault. If my mother doesn’t have her perfect tree before her party tomorrow night, I may be disowned.”
She giggled and motioned for him to follow her toward the back of the lot.
He couldn’t help but admire the sway of her hips, or the way those jeans hugged an ass that his hands itched to grab. What the hell? It wasn’t like he’d never seen a beautiful woman before, but this one… there was something about her that made him feel like a caveman. He wanted to toss her over his shoulder and carry her to the nearest bed, and then keep her there for days.
He didn’t know where the Bakers had found this delectable angel, but he intended to ask her out once the tree issue was settled. The thought of not knowing her name, of not kissing those lips, seemed criminal. When she stopped under a ball of mistletoe, Gray knew he couldn’t let the opportunity slip through his fingers. A girl working in a tree lot had to believe in Christmas traditions, right?
She turned toward him and he hooked an arm around her waist, bring her tight against his chest. Her eyes widened a moment, and he took advantage, pressing his lips to hers before she could utter a word of protest. She stiffened only a moment before melting against him. Her hand crept to the back of his neck, holding him as his lips devoured hers.