Holiday Titles excerpts
“What am I doing here?” Darcelle Price asked herself as she bundled her coat tighter against the December chill and exhaled the cold air from her nostrils. The outing—daddy and daughter time—had been forever
Harold Price had been a wise man who had guided
Darcelle through life’s various tests and triumphs. He instilled values in her to always stand up for herself and let no one take advantage of her in any situation—whether personal or private.
When she mentioned needing a new vehicle, excitement lit his eyes as he announced he would accompany his thirty-two-year-old single daughter on a car-buying spree.
“We’ll scope out the Black Friday deals. If we don’t find a steal, we’ll wait until around Christmas when the dealerships are desperate to clear inventory for the new year.”
So, there she was, standing on a car lot—at almost Christmas time—with big red bows arranged on car hoods,
twinkling lights looped on massive trees in the lobby, and Merry Christmas signs flashing in store windows. The stage was set for holiday cheer.
Darcelle wasn’t feeling it.
A link was missing.
Daddy had always been there for her. Faithful.
Committed. Loving. The qualities the man she married better bring to the table, a boast that was hard to fulfill. When she was old enough to date, Darcelle realized not many men could measure up to her father.
She blinked away the moisture from her eyes, and everything came into focus. She was surrounded, drowning in an ocean of cars that seemed ready to charge at her any minute.
Darcelle couldn’t keep the thoughts of her father at bay as she moved aimlessly from one vehicle to another with enticements to “drive your Christmas present” home. Memories flooded her like a tsunami.
So many monumental memories.
The week before Thanksgiving, her father had died of a heart attack. The Prices buried him on Black Friday. A dark day in the lives of his widow, three daughters, and two grandchildren he left behind to mourn. And Darcelle had mourned and was still grieving.
“This was such a bad idea,” she concluded. “I should’ve never come. I can’t do this.”
“Have any questions?” Jake, or maybe it was John—the salesperson assigned to hound her for a deal—startled her.
Tucking away the memories into a private place, Darcelle straightened her shoulders and practiced a smile. She spun around to face the man for the second time since she’d arrived at the dealership.
While she shivered under her thick wool coat and cap, he wore a thin jacket halfway zipped and no head covering. Gel fortified his hair against the wind. The crooked grin on his round face and oversized glasses angled on his narrow nose were annoying.
“Not yet.” Darcelle was pleasant, but couldn’t wait to sneak away as he turned to retreat.
But wasn’t that why she left her apartment?
To escape the solitude?
Darcelle had been holed up there for days. Either
refocus or put off making a purchase, she chided herself. Her dad had advised her that her current seven-year-old car wasn’t worth a new transmission.
“Daddy, what should I do?” she whispered as if he could hear her.
Footsteps approached behind her. Gritting her teeth, she had no smile for this guy—again.
“Do you know what you’re looking for?” a baritone voice asked over her shoulder.
He wasn’t the same guy. His words weren’t rushed or pushy. Had the other guy called in reinforcement to up the pressure?
She sighed and twirled around, then she steadied herself against a nearby car. How could she smart off at a man who towered over her five-foot-six-and-a-half-inch stature and whose handsome face was worthy of a second glance?. He was nicely dressed in a long wool coat, and a hat—a Fedora custom designed for his face. His sales bonuses were clearly well invested. His smile mesmerized her.
Mischief danced in his eyes and hinted of a tease. Okay, so he thought he could flirt his way to a commission?
Darcelle wouldn’t be intimidated. Lifting her chin, she held her ground. “Like I told the other salesman, I’ll let you know when I make up my mind.”
“I doubt it.” Instead of a retreat, he rocked on his heels. “I’ve been watching you from over there.” She turned in the direction he pointed. “And I thought—uh-uh, she’s not interested in buying.”
His eyes no longer danced but softened. “I’m Evanston Giles. Friends call me Evan. Nah, I’m not a salesman.” He scrunched his nose. “Can never trust those guys.”
A kindred spirit.
Relaxing her shoulders, Darcelle confessed. “You’re right. Although I need a vehicle, my heart’s not into it at the moment. I can’t, not without my dad.” Her voice cracked. Better leave now before she broke down in front of this stranger—well, Evan. She moved to step around him.
“Hold on. Your dad might be running late.” Evanston took a chance to detain her longer.
“He’s not.” She shook her head. The disappointment in her eyes, along with the pool of tears, tugged at his senses. “My father died.” Her words faded to a whisper.
Usually, an articulate person, Evanston had a word for every occasion. Not this time, struggling to say something besides, I’m sorry.
She stared past him in a trance. “Seems like last night, but it was last month.”
A slight breeze felt like a punch to his gut. What? “Sorry for your loss.” He said it anyway. Still in mourning,
the lady shouldn’t be making business transactions in her state of mind. “Do you need a car?”
“Doesn’t matter.” She shrugged and began to walk away. “My father was supposed to make sure I got the best deal.”
Problem solved. Evanston could recall features on most models that would put a salesperson to shame. Plus, he was a master at negotiation. “I can stand in the gap, but you’ll have to tell me your name.” Without asking for permission, he grabbed her hand and tugged her toward a car as if they were friends after five minutes.
Stunned, she opened her mouth as if to protest his forwardness but didn’t. “Darcelle Giles.”
“A beautiful name for an alluring woman. I’m not flirting—yet. Stating the obvious.” He smiled. Okay, he was flirting, which surprised him. He hadn’t dated since... No need to think about past regrets.
Her lips curved into a faint smile until she chuckled. With twinkling clear Christmas lights as a backdrop, her face glowed as if the sun were overruling the sunset. “My dad told my mother he wanted his girls to have beautiful names.”
So, there was more than one from where this beauty came. Stay on task. “Tell me about your father.”
“His name is—was—Harold.” She swallowed and sucked in a deep breath. Evanston silently willed her to relax and regain her composure. It worked because she continued. “He was smart, funny, and a family man. When it came to his three daughters, he was a force to be reckoned with.”
“Nope. I’ve never seen him angry until my older sister got pregnant—twice.”
He whistled. Evanston couldn’t imagine the fallout. He clicked his teeth as if he were scared. “Yikes.”
A memory must have jolted her mind because Darcelle smirked. “You better believe it. Daddy renewed his gun permit. It took prayers and pleading for him not to do anything he would regret.”
“I like him already.” He admired any man who would protect his family. He had heard of a shotgun wedding, but Evanston had never seen it play out. Suddenly, he felt an allegiance to this larger-than-life family man. “What’s your favorite color?”
“Purple.” Digging into the oversized pockets of her coat, she pivoted to the left, then to the right as if she were a model. The bold color had gotten his attention from across the car lot, along with the riding boots and a cream cap that couldn’t trap her mass of curls. She was definitely dressed for the elements. In a different setting, he might have mistaken her for a model at one of the many cars shows he attended.
He tapped a finger against his lips and faked a frown. “I don’t know if I saw any purple ones.”
She jutted her chin, and a dimple appeared. He zoomed in on her freckles—three of them. “You didn’t say a car. I like maroon or a cranberry shade.” Her eyes became bright with expectancy.
Evanston pumped more information out of her like the make, model, and price range. “Let’s see if we can find those features in your choice of colors. He pointed to a Ford. She shook her head.
“Okay.” He steered her toward a Hyundai and read off what it was equipped with.
She squinted as if she was considering it. “I’m not feeling this one either. Not enough horsepower and Apple CarPlay is a must.”
“Ooh, woman,” he teased, “you’re going to be a hard sale.”
She giggled. “Daddy would be proud.”
When she hovered near a Buick crossover, he played the part. “This one has automatic high beams and emergency braking—I’m thinking about your safety. You have to admit the big green bow is setting the maroon shade off —” he patted the hood— “plus, this would make your dad happy.”
“It’s cranberry.” The sparkle in her eyes revealed he had picked a winner.
Darcelle glanced over her shoulder. “Uh-oh. Here comes Jake, John, or whatever his name is.”
“I’ll handle him.” Evanston stepped closer in a protective stance.
The salesman extended his hand for a shake and introduced himself as Jake. He grinned with a hopeful expression. “So, folks, what do you think? Want to take it for a test drive?”
Evanston looked to Darcelle who shook her head. “I drove one of these a month ago when I needed a rental. Smooth ride.”
“Okay. Let’s talk numbers, Jake,” Evanston used his no-nonsense tone.
Darcelle blinked as if she’d remembered something and pulled Evanston aside. “I can take it from here. I didn’t mean to take you away from your car shopping.”
He chuckled as Jake waved them forward. “I didn’t come to buy.”
“What? Why are you here?”
Good question. Was it serendipity, or as his mother always said, the Lord ordering his steps? Why would the Lord be interested in his movements? Not that Evanston was a bad person or anything. It’s just that he wouldn’t get a perfect church attendance award.
Evanston stopped overthinking it. “I’m a car enthusiast. The dealership’s magnificent Christmas decorations made me look and, on a whim, I decided to stop and check out the new models.”
“Yeah,” She glanced around, “I think the light display beckoned to me to stop here too.”
Okay, was that a coincidence—or the Lord causing this detour? He pondered it while falling in step with Darcelle.
I’m being stalked. Saige couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw Daniel heading toward the greeting card aisle in Target. The man couldn’t be missed. She guessed he had to be about six-foot one, two, or three. She was never good at guessing heights.
With rich, brown, African skin, Daniel resembled actor Lamman Rucker, with a dash of something extra. His walk was an attention grabber, turning heads, including hers, with every step.
Didn’t he say he was going to get something to eat anyway? In contrast to Walgreens, the aisle at Target was starting to become congested with potential customers. More than she could handle. That was the good news; the bad news was nobody had purchased any of her cards. They were hidden, though, which could be the reason that none had been sold.
Dismissing Daniel, Saige did a little stalking of her own—potential customers.
“How many have you sold?” his deep voice whispered close to her ear, sending goose bumps down her arm.
It was at that moment Saige knew she regretted singling him out in the first place. “None—yet.” She gritted her teeth in sudden aggravation. “But I’m about to try.”
“Need any help?” His childish expression reminded her of a little boy pleading to do a chore to earn extra allowance money.
So, the brother had charm, did he? Saige released the annoyance that was building and smiled. The two of them working in cahoots would only look suspicious. She could only imagine security suspecting them of being shoplifters or worse. “That’s sweet, but no thank—”
“C’mon, you’ve made my day,” he insisted as more customers wandered into the aisle.
“If you want to help, then tweet or post about the cards on Facebook.” Why did she feel that Daniel was infringing in her territory? This was getting crazy.
“Already done. I sent it out on the way over here. Well, actually, while I was still in the parking lot. You know we’re not supposed to drive and text.” He snickered, and that was the first time she noticed his goatee was trimmed with precision around his full lips, as if serviced by a sculptor. “It was a worthy cause. I couldn’t help myself.”
“Mr. Washington, you’ll only be a distraction.” She pivoted to walk away, but stopped and glanced over her shoulder. “To other women,” she added, scrutinizing him from the rim of his hat to his polished shoes—or boots.
“Right.” Daniel released a hearty laugh, and then disappeared into the next aisle. Was she relieved or disappointed? Saige didn’t have time to give it much thought as she cozied up to a mother holding a baby. As she was about to pitch her rehearsed speech, Saige could feel a presence behind her. Lord, please don’t let it be security.
Finally, with curiosity that would kill any cat, she turned to find Daniel behind her, engrossed in one of her cards, as if it contained a book of words instead of a few sentences. Then, all of a sudden, he began to ask women for their advice on whether they would buy it for themselves. Glancing her way, he winked.
Maybe Saige was the one being played. Daniel was a natural interacting with people. Surely his relationship with his family wasn’t as bad as he was making it out to be? A few minutes later, Saige admitted defeat in her well-thought-out covert operation. While Daniel was distracted with some flirty females, Saige made her escape to her final pit stop.
Her friend, Maxi, would never believe how her evening played out. She hoped her other friends didn’t have any distractions like Daniel Washington.
Saige didn’t return home until after ten that night. She was exhausted and came to the realization that she could never be a sales rep. The rejection—she took it personally. However, the customers who did take her cards lifted her spirit. Then there was Daniel, who fascinated her, but confused her at the same time. Although she didn’t see a ring, Saige wondered if he really had nothing better to do with his time than tag along beside her.
After making half a ham and Swiss cheese sandwich for a snack and pouring a glass of Eggnog, she said her grace, and then called her best friend after the first bite. She wanted to find out how it went on the other side of town.
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