Do Not Open 'Til Christmas

By: Sierra Donovan


She hadn’t put her keys in the door. And Bret became aware that his pulse had started racing.

It was a classic scenario, and he suspected Chloe realized it, too. He didn’t feel like an editor and an employee. He felt like a boy walking a girl home after a first date. Her door didn’t face the street. No one would see. Except that he was her boss again and he needed to start remembering that.

No matter how tempting it was to pretend he wasn’t, just for a few more minutes.

Professional ethics, he reminded himself, and took half a step back. Just half a step. “Thanks for coming,” he said. “Today would have been just an obligation for me. You made it a lot better.”

Chloe’s face softened into a smile, and God help him, it was one of those smiles, its glow soft and genuine. “Thank you,” she said. “I had a wonderful time.”

She hesitated a fraction of a second. Then she stepped toward the door, and Bret turned to go. Mission accomplished. He’d gotten through the day without crossing the boundaries, professional ethics intact. And doing the right thing had never felt so stupid.

A voice in his head said, Screw professional ethics.

The moment was almost gone and it would never be here again, so before it was over, before he could stop himself, before Chloe could get her keys in the door, he wheeled around, pulled her into his arms, and kissed her… .

For Charlie, for your love and all your patience over the years. I couldn’t have written a love story without you, and there’s a little bit of you in every hero I’ve ever written.

I love you.


Special thanks …

To Sharon Wild, who started this journey off when she gave me my first Nora Roberts book. Love you!

To Stephanie Newton and Roberta Smith. You’re on opposite coasts and you’ve never met, but you’re the two most steadfast critique partners a girl could ask for. You encourage me, keep me grounded, and let me know when I’m on the right track.

To Tania Ramos, for providing valuable medical advice to help me with a plot point. Any errors in translation are mine.

To the baristas at the Starbucks at Bear Valley Road off the I-15. You’ve seen a lot of me over the past few years. Special thanks to Adam, Carleton, Marina, and Chelsea, for smiling when you see me, remembering my name, and never complaining about the table space I take up. And a very special thanks to Sergio, for keeping the place running.

To my readers. A book isn’t worth the paper (or e-ink) it’s written on unless the story reaches someone. Thanks for picking me up off the shelf or tucking me into your e-reader, and giving my characters a few of your precious hours. May you all live happily ever after!

Chapter 1

“Just once, couldn’t somebody kill someone?”

Bret Radner bit out the words as soon as he hit the period at the end of his latest story for the Tall Pine Gazette. The headline read: EVERGREEN LANE SHOPS PREDICT SUCCESSFUL CHRISTMAS SEASON.


“I’ll get right on it.” Bret’s fellow reporter, Chuck Nolan, didn’t even glance up from his own computer screen. “Who’ve you got in mind for the lucky victim?”

Bret released a long, slow sigh. Chuck had heard it all before. And there wasn’t really anyone in Tall Pine he was that annoyed with.

“Okay,” Bret said. “A tourist.”

Chuck battered out a few words on his keyboard with his oddly efficient hunt-and-peck method. He was in his early forties, and somehow Chuck had never learned to type. “And how about the murderer? I’m not doing your dirty work for you.”

“Another tourist. How’s that? Two really rude tourists.”

Bret returned his attention to the story on his screen, running the cursor down the text to proofread it once more before he sent it to his editor’s in-box. Holding back another sigh, Bret reached for the writing pad that contained the notes from his interview with the head of the local water district.

“Radner.” His editor, Frank McCrea, stood in the doorway of his glass-walled office, twenty feet from Bret’s desk. “I need to see you for a minute.”

A summons to the editor’s office at four o’clock was pretty unusual. Too quick to have anything to do with the story Bret had just sent over. And if it was a reaction to his mini-rant, that would be a first.

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