All I Want for Christmas (Harlequin Blaze)

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9780373797318: All I Want for Christmas (Harlequin Blaze)
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It's cold outside, but these guys are roaring hot...

Christmas Kisses by Lori Wilde

Santa's been arrested for arson? Defense attorney Alana O'Hara won't let holiday-hating sergeant Noah Briscoe ruin Christmas. She'll save Santa and find Noah's Christmas spirit...even if it means more than just kisses under the mistletoe!

Baring It All by Kathleen O'Reilly

After being rescued from a fire by paramedic Eric Marshall, Chloe Skidmore has amnesia. She's forgotten her past, her hurt—and Eric. But as the spark between them reignites, there's still a teeny problem...Chloe's wedding ring!

A Hot December Night by Candace Havens

Assistant Fire Chief Jason Turner wasn't expecting to have his head turned by party planner Kristen Lovejoy. Especially at Christmas. But when chemistry takes over, things get out of control...and this is one blaze Jason won't be able to put out!

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Lori Wilde is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 64 books. She is a former registered nurse and lives in Texas with her husband, Bill.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Hands on his hips, Police Sergeant Noah Briscoe, head of the general investigations unit, stared at the smoldering rubble of what was once the number-one historical landmark in Pine Crest, Virginia. The mansion home of Colin T. Price, arguably the most beloved governor who ever held the state's office, and visited by over half a million tourists a year.

The acrid stench assaulted Noah with dark memories that he impatiently shoved aside. No. He would not go there.

But how did he block out the past when charred metal thrust up from the smoldering heap like blackened bones, taunted him, reminding him of another burned house, another injured woman, another ruined Christmas?

When the call came in, Noah had been at a twenty-four-hour gym, working out his frustrations. Lately, he'd had trouble sleeping and it had a lot to do with the stress of the holiday season. Crime went up in November and December. Robbery, shoplifting, domestic abuse. Something about the holidays riled people. If it were up to Noah, he'd outlaw the whole damn thing.

But there was a secondary reason he hadn't been able to sleep. Sexual frustration. He hadn't had sex in almost a year and he seriously needed it bad. There was only so much exercising a man could do, after all.

And whenever he thought of sex, he thought of Alana O'Hara, the fiery, redheaded defense attorney he'd almost talked into bed this past summer, before common sense prevailed. They'd flirted for weeks, shared a deep wet tongue kiss in her office and gone out on exactly one date.

At the end of the evening, after they took the making out far past second base in the back seat of his SUV, Alana had chickened out, telling him that while there was no denying the sexual chemistry, they just weren't compatible.

She was right.

They were oil and water, but hot damn that woman was something else. Great body, mind like a steel trap, strong opinions she wasn't afraid to voice. Noah suppressed a smile.

Thinking of Alana had the desired effect. It got his mind off those disturbing Christmas memories.

Now, refocus. Task at hand.

The arson investigator, Bic Beckham, was poking around in the ashes. Crime scene technicians snapped photographs. Firefighters moved to and fro. Noah's men were busy stringing out yellow crime-scene tape and setting up portable floodlights to aid the investigation and keeping the lookie-loos at bay behind sawhorse barricades.

An ambulance sat at the curb, strobes flashing red into the night as the paramedics loaded up the unidentified, unconscious woman who'd been found in the foyer of the mansion. She'd been overcome by smoke inhalation before she could reach the door.

Which raised the questions, who was she and what had she been doing in the mansion after hours?

After Noah finished here, he would follow the ambulance to the hospital to check on her condition. If she died, this would become a murder investigation and Homicide would take over.

"Briscoe." Bic beckoned with a crook of his finger. "C'mere"

Gingerly, Noah picked his way around puddles of water and hot debris to where Bic stood beside a pile of crumpled bricks that had previously been one of the mansion's four fireplace chimneys. "Whatcha got?"

"See here." Bic pointed to a thin blackened triangular mark seared into the brick paving stones that surrounded the toppled fireplace.

A very narrow V-shape char pattern was indicative of a fire that burned hotter than normal. Say, for instance, one that had been assisted by an accelerant. Noah ran a palm over his whisker-roughened chin.

"I'll know more when the embers cool and we can start sifting through the ashes," Bic said. "But between this and what the firefighters observed of the fire's behavior, it looks like we've got a case of arson on our hands."

Arson.

Noah raked fingers through his hair. Who would want to burn down the town's biggest tourist attraction, and why?

Bic returned to his work. Noah called his men over, told them it was suspected arson. Most arsonists had a need to watch the fire they'd set and that was often how they were caught. "Anybody among those rubberneckers strike you as suspicious?"

"You mean besides Santa?" asked Jimmy Thornton, an earnest-faced, wet-behind-the-ears rookie. Santa?

Noah's gaze shifted in the direction Jimmy indicated. Sure enough, there was a man in a Santa suit standing in the middle of the crowd. Noah's gaze locked with the blue-eyed man of indeterminate age.

Santa held his stare, and inexplicably, Noah felt a chill pass straight through his bones. Was it just his aversion to all things Noel? Or was his gut trying to tell him something?

"Go find out who he is," Noah told Jimmy.

"You don't really think Santa is the arsonist, do you?"

Naive kid. Noah cocked an eyebrow, drilled him with a hard look. "You never heard of Bad Santa? He's not above breaking the law just because he's wearing a Santa suit."

Jimmy flushed. Looked embarrassed. Not so many years ago, the young rookie was hanging his stocking on the fireplace mantel. Hell, he probably still did.

"Thornton." Noah jerked his head in the direction of the chubby guy in red. "There's no such thing as Santa Claus.

Get on it."

"I'm going, Sarg." Jimmy hustled off. "Scrooge."

Noah turned to see Bic grinning at him. "Not you, too."

"Oh, I'm fully aware that arsonists come in all shapes, sizes, ages and outfits," Bic said. "But seriously, why would the guy commit arson while wearing a Santa suit? Too restrictive. Attracts too much attention. Not too mention he'd get soot all over himself."

"And then he could just say it's from sliding down a chimney. Perfect excuse."

Bic laughed and went back to what he was doing. Noah circled around to the front of the building, which was still largely intact. The foyer was where the first responders had found the unconscious mystery woman. She hadn't had any identification on her person, but maybe she'd had a purse. He touched the doorknob. It was cold.

He pushed open the door. Unlike the rest of the house, this area had less debris. Water from the firemen's diligent soaking dripped and splattered all around him.

Noah squatted, pulled a flashlight from his jacket pocket and shone it over the foyer floor. The heat had buckled the old mahogany wood. What a shame. He shook his head, ran the beam over the charred Persian rug that delineated the foyer from the parlor. His mother had brought him here on a Christmas tour when he was a kid. She'd loved both history and the holidays.

Dammit, there were those old memories again. It had been twenty years, but Christmas was a bitch, and now with the fire destroying the mansion it was inevitable he'd think about that other fire.

He scrubbed a palm down his face. What was going on? He'd made peace with his past long ago. Why had he been thinking about it lately?

Stop it. Pull out some of your X-rated daydreams of Alana O 'Hara. Remember the one where she's dressed up in thigh-high black leather boots and a little red bikini?

Noah smiled at the visual. Their relationship might never have gotten off the ground, but Alana was a big help when he needed to redirect his attention. Just thinking about those million-mile-long legs and that full head of lush auburn hair—

Something glinted in the beam of his flashlight. Wait a minute. What was that? His brain caught up with his eyes and he realized what he was seeing.

A gold belt buckle attached to a long, four-inch-wide black belt. The belt was large enough to encircle at least a forty-four-inch waist.

He straightened, took a pair of rubber gloves from his pocket and then leaned over to carefully lift a curl of blackened wallpaper that draped over the belt. It looked exactly like the sort of belt Santa Claus might wear. What was it doing here in the foyer of the Price Mansion?

Contrary to what television would have people believe, only fifteen percent of all arson cases were ever solved. Could he have gotten lucky right off the bat?

Noah peeled off the gloves, went outside and called to one of the crime scene techs to come photograph the evidence before bagging and tagging it. He scanned the crowd, searching for Santa or the rookie Jimmy Thornton, but saw neither.

Another one of his officers approached. "Sarg, we got a witness."

"Who?"

The officer consulted his tablet computer. "Agnes Gaines. Lives next door."

"Where is she?"

The officer indicated an elderly birdlike woman positioned behind the nearest sawhorse.

"Bring her over," Noah instructed.

The officer assisted the woman around the barricade. She was thin as a licorice whip with a tidy cap of snow-white hair. She wore a man's peacoat thrown over pajamas and house slippers. A pair of oversized glasses made her brown eyes appeared owlish.

"What did you see, Mrs. Gaines?"

"Miss Gaines," she corrected. "I never married."

"You saw something?" he asked, guiding her back to the topic at hand.

She nodded. "I couldn't sleep and I got up to make myself a glass of warm milk."

"What time was this?"

"Hmm, around eleven-thirty."

Noah glanced at his watch. It was 2:00 a.m. now. "What did you see?"

"I happened to notice the full moon shining through my kitchen window. I love a full moon, so I stepped out on the back porch for a good look."

He wanted to tell her to cut to the chase, Reader's Digest version, but he forced himself to be patient. Active listening was an essential tool in a good police officer's arsenal. "Yes, ma'am."

"The moon was hanging right over the Price Mansion, such an elegant old structure. Such a shame." She shook her head. Noah cleared his throat.

"I'm digressing, aren't I? Well, the moon was shining brightly and I s...

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