Santa Claus Is Coming: The Q Collection, book five
"Please tell me that was the last one."
Holly grins. "That was the last one."
"Oh, thank God." I push myself up and out of the driftwood throne I've occupied for the better part of the day and stretch the kinks out of my back and shoulders.
My back is stiff from sitting for too long, and my thighs hurt from having an endless line-up of kids—and the occasional adult—sit on them all day. My cheeks ache from smiling waaay too much, my arse is so numb I'm not entirely sure it's still attached to my body, and don't even get me started on my balls….
What a day.
When my best friend's sister invited me to spend the day with her at Melbourne’s iconic Brighton Beach—you know the one, with the long line of brightly painted bathing huts that wedding photographers clamour over—I jumped at the opportunity. Spend the day with the woman I've lusted after for years while she parades around in one of those skimpy bikinis she's so fond of?
And sure, maybe I could catch a few waves while we're there, show off my very grown-up, non-brotherly physique to the woman who once told me a) she'd never date one of her brother's mates, and b) she'd never, ever be interested in someone so much younger than her.
Like a ten-year age difference made her old or something.
Anyway, I rock up, surfboard in hand, and what does she do? Hands me a beach bum Santa costume consisting of little more than a pair of boardshorts and a Santa hat, shoves me in front of a camera and starts charging people money to let their precious little darlings crawl all over me and tell me their Christmas wishes. Which okay, crushed ball-sack aside, it was actually pretty cool, especially the kid who wanted total world domination so he could end bullying everywhere. I didn't have the heart to point out the flaw in his plan, and judging by the look on his dad's face, neither did he.
"You did a good job today, Chris," Holly says as she packs away her camera equipment, then laughs. "I can't wait to show Mikey that shot of the granny in your lap."
I slip my Santa hat off my head and shove it in my pocket. "I'll have you know her name was Phillipa. She's seventy-five years young, and she said I reminded her of her late husband."
"She licked your face."
"She wanted to know if I tasted like him, too," I say with a grin. "I reckon the saucy old dame did it to win a bet, actually. I saw her and her friend exchange a tenner after she collected her photo. And you know Mike hates it when you call him Mikey, right?"
"Of course. Why do you think I do it?" she says with a wink that makes my breath stall in my chest and my legs go weak at the knees. "Seriously, though, thanks for today. I know I blindsided you with it."
"You know, you could’ve just told me what you wanted me for," I say as I step down from the dais and discreetly adjust my aching package. "It is for charity. And you know us firemen. We love any excuse to take our shirts off."
She looks up at me from under long blonde lashes. "After the calendar shoot fiasco, I wasn't sure how willing you'd be to help me."
Ah, yes. The calendar fiasco. I snort a laugh and shake my head. "I run into burning buildings for a living, Hols. On purpose. Did you really think a little dog shit would keep me away?"
Holly laughs, the full-bodied sound bursting from within her and shaking her deliciously plump figure with the force of it.
Good God, I want to eat her all up.
Starting right between her—
"It was more than a little dog shit. That poor pup had the worst diarrhoea I've ever seen. You were covered in it. I have photos. I was thinking of blowing one up and giving it to your mum for Christmas."
Cocking an eyebrow at her obvious glee, I fold my arms over my chest and grin. "You just love humiliating me, don't you?"
"Call it a hobby," she says with a shrug, her pretty mouth curved in a smile of honest good humour. A smile that has my cock twitching with interest as I imagine how those sweet lips would feel wrapped around its rock-hard length.
The last thing I need right now is a hard-on. I'm almost thankful for the sudden wind that whips past us, stinging my legs with flying sand.
Looking out over the bay, the darkening clouds are swallowing the blue sky and sunshine like a ravenous beast. How the hell didn't I notice a storm that big sneaking up on us? Holly's bikini and see-through kaftan combo probably has something to do with it. But damn, that thing is moving fast and heading inland. Towards us. I look up and down the beach, watching people packing away their gear and hurrying up their kids, trying to make it back to their cars before the rain hits.
"Looks like we're in for one hell of a storm. Let's get this stuff packed up. Where do you want it?"
A rumble of thunder has Holly looking skyward. A burst of bright blue lightning has her unceremoniously shoving the last of her gear in her bag and hauling arse towards the nearest bathing box.
Flinging the doors open on the little timber shed, she puts her bag on a daybed inside, then runs back to help me dismantle the driftwood throne and the small dais it sits on.
"When did you get a box?" I ask as we carry the various bits and pieces to the tiny hut and stack them inside.
"As if I could afford one of these," she says with a snort, going back for the inflatable kangaroos she pegged to the sand. "It belongs to a client. I shot his portrait here last year, and I always thought it would be a great spot for a Summer Santa photo op. Anyway, Mal's spending the holidays with family up north this year, so he said I could use it while he's away, free of charge."
An irrational flare of jealousy makes my jaw tighten and my stomach clench. Who is this Mal she knows so well he would lend her the use of his bathing box—a privilege usually reserved for family members only—and why do I suddenly want to rip his fucking head off?
Small droplets of rain splash against my skin, distracting me from my wayward thoughts. The temperature drops and a sudden chill skates over my half-naked body, making me wish I was wearing something more than just a pair of Christmas-themed boardshorts.
Another rumble of thunder sounds overhead, louder this time.
Then the storm starts in earnest, a downpour pelting us with cold, stinging rain, the heavy drops of water leaving tiny craters in the sand at our feet.
I look over at Holly. She's tossed two kangaroos inside the box and gone back for the third. I stack the last panel from the portable dais, then pause to glance at her again. She seems to have everything well in hand, so I grab my surfboard and beach bag and shove them inside too. No way I'm trudging all that shit back to my car in this kind of weather.
Just as I'm dusting the last of the sand off my hands and pushing my wet hair out of my eyes, I hear more thunder, see more lightning.