The line of people waiting to see Santa stretched halfway round the store.
Roxy tugged at the fairy costume. It was scratchy, but at least the discomfort stopped her falling asleep standing up. Manhattan at Christmas wasn’t for the fainthearted. She hadn’t eaten because she’d been late leaving her other job. She’d been on her feet all day, and her feet had just about had enough.
She could see the department manager, Mr. Silver, winding his way toward her, the buttons of his jacket straining under the pressure of flesh. Some of the temporary staff went out of their way to avoid him, but she’d been dealing with men like Bob Silver all her life. She could handle him with one hand tied behind her back and a plastic wand in the other.
“You asked to see me, Roxanne?”
“Yes.” She stepped back a little. “From tomorrow I would like to be a candy cane instead of a fairy, please.”
Because the candy cane costume would cover her bottom. Because it didn’t have a bodice that plunged. Because she would never dream of wearing anything half this revealing outside Santa’s Grotto. “I’m not the fairy type.”
“You make a great fairy.”
She tightened her grip on her wand. Twenty-five days until Christmas.
All she had to do was keep her eye on the goal and remember she was doing this for Mia. She’d do anything for her baby girl, even dress as the Sugar Plum Fairy, although Mia wasn’t a baby exactly. She was almost three, but she was still a baby to Roxy. And she was her whole world. Everything she did, every choice she made—and these days she was only making good ones—was for her daughter.
Thinking about Mia triggered a wave of longing. She wished she were home with her right now. She envied the parents who were queuing with their children. That was luxury. Not a day in a spa, or something sparkly from Tiffany’s. Time with your child.
Over Bob Silver’s shoulder she saw a tall broad-shouldered man pause in front of a large display of dolls. He had his back to her, but something about the way he stood made her heart beat a little faster.
She’d know those shoulders anywhere. They belonged to James. She and James worked for the same landscape architecture business, and she’d spent the summer watching him haul concrete slabs and carve log seats with a chain saw. Until she’d met James she’d only ever known one type of strength. The type that bruised. James had shown her another type. The type that protected. He’d shown her that strength could be gentle and that kindness and patience were sexy, as were humor and intelligence. It was those qualities that had ensured she spent the long, lazy days of summer gazing and her nights dreaming. Dreaming that one day, maybe, a man like James would say I love you to her. That was all she wanted. To be special to someone. To matter. But dreaming didn’t build a life for her daughter, which was why she only allowed herself to do it at night. During the day she had her feet firmly on the ground, and the practical side of her knew she had to vanish before James noticed her. It would be awkward if he knew she was working here.
She forgot about Bob Silver and the prickly fairy outfit.
The only thing on her mind was hiding from James.
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