** Excerpt from Year of Luke **
Nikki bit the head off a gingerbread man. Violently. A frosted leg fell to her plate.
“They’re not dating,” I hissed.
We were at the resort lodge, sipping hot chocolate and devouring cookies, pretending we weren’t there for Andre LeBlanc.
Nikki glared a hole through Amanda McGuire’s face.
Sporting his tan uniform, Andre sat behind the counter, surfing the internet on his phone. Amanda sat a foot away from him, eventually emitting a wistful sigh his way.
“Nikki,” I nudged.
Her eyes narrowed on me. Then they returned to a giggling Amanda.
“I love that color on you!” Amanda brushed Andre’s arm with her sparkly baby blue nails.
Andre peeked at his uniform, and brushed her hand away. “I wear this color every day.”
Amanda inched her seat toward him. “You didn’t wear it yesterday.”
He stared at her. “I meant, when I’m working.”
She tucked some brown hair behind her ear. “Still....”
His brow furrowed. “How do you know what I wore yesterday?”
She cleared her throat and looked away.
He shook his head and looked back at his phone.
She rubbernecked to see it.
“Who’s the girl?” she asked a second later.
Andre raised an eyebrow at her.
Amanda crossed her arms. “The girl you’re messaging with....”
Andre looked back at his screen. “My mom.”
She popped a bubble. “Why do you talk with her?”
He licked his lips. “‘Cause she’s my parent.”
She inhaled him. “Oh my God, that smell....”
“...Is the cookies burning,” Andre finished.
In a panic she hopped to her feet, grabbed a mitt, and scurried over to the large oven. “I completely forgot!”
Andre rolled his eyes, leaned back in his seat, and plopped a shoe on the counter. I wasn’t sure he was allowed to do that, but their boss had left for the night.
“What are you doing for Christmas?” Amanda chirped from one counter over. She placed the cookie tray on a cooling rack.
“I’m spending it at Luke’s. New Year’s also at Luke’s. And Valentine’s Day in the Alps for the wedding.
“Now you don’t have to ask for a few holidays.”
Amanda sneered. “Wedding?!”
Andre peeked over his shoulder at her. “Luke’s wedding.”
She puffed out her chest. “Oh.
“I never got an invitation.”
“It’s in the Alps,” Andre reiterated.
“Still never got one!”
He picked at his back teeth. “I’m sure it’s an oversight,” he said dully.
“Well, there’s still time!” She sat back beside him, just as he finished rolling his eyes again.
“Gosh,” she said, partially unbuttoning her uniform. Her boobs practically bounced out. “It’s so hot all of a sudden!”
Nikki’s nails screeched across the table.
I shot her a look.
“What?” she grumbled.
“Cool it,” I whispered.
She curled her lip. “Too bad that’s not Luke, so I can watch you cool it.”
“They’re not dating.” I was beginning to feel like a broken record.
She checked her watch. “Where are Lilly and Troy already?!” she wondered aloud. And I mean loud.
No one bought that she was there for Lilly—I’m not sure why she even bothered.
“If it’s hot all of a sudden, it’s because you were standing by an oven,” Andre exclaimed.
“Are you saying I’m not hot?” Amanda spat.
“No, woman. I didn’t say you’re not hot. I said, you were suddenly hot because you were standing by an oven.”
“If I’m hot, why don’t you ask me out?” she urged.
His brow furrowed. “I never said you’re hot. As I recall, I merely said you are pretty. And you’re not a blonde.”
“You said, ‘I never said you’re not hot’. That means I’m hot.”
He made a face. “Nooo ... it means I never made mention of you being hot.”
She sucked her teeth. “So I have to be blonde now? Why?”
“Because. It’s what I like.”
He looked over his phone at Nikki. His twinkling blue eyes rolled down her brown shirt, black jeans and boots.
When he caught my gaze, he shied away.
“He was checking you out,” I hissed, as I caught Amanda’s glare.
“Really?” Nikki peeped, sitting up straight.
“Yup,” I said, checking my watch. It was after eight.
“I don’t know about you,” Amanda preached, “but when I’m with someone, I never check out anyone else!”
Andre stared blankly. “With someone?”
“That’s what I said.”
Bewildered, Andre flashed his teeth. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Amanda looked away like she didn’t catch that.
After an awkward silence, Andre looked back at his phone. Then he grabbed the ticket book, and strolled on over to us.
“Mademoiselle Napper,” he rumbled, licking his lips seductively. “Ready to order dinner?”
She pointed to her cookie. “This is dinner.”
“For a nine-year-old, maybe.”
Her eyes fell to the triceps that bulged out of his rolled-up sleeves.
“Are you nine years old?” he teased.
“Obviously not,” she said as she pushed her dessert plate away. “Since you slept with me.”
“And who is this?” Amanda jeered, suddenly beside him.
We all stared at her, because she knew full-well who that was.
“Nikki Napper?” Andre peeped. “You know, the girl with the imaginary boyfriend...?
Amanda lifted her chin. “So immature.”
Nikki made a face. “Excuse me? You don’t even know me.”
“I’ve heard enough,” Amanda dismissed.
Andre waved a hand in contempt. “What would you like, Miss Napper?”
“A steak,” she grumbled. “Still bleeding.”
Andre jotted it down.
“Anything else?” He took an awkward step to the side, only to have Amanda follow him.
Nikki glared at her. “A knife.”
Andre pursed his lips. “That already comes with the steak.”
Nikki forced a smile. “Just checking.”
“And by the way, what brings you here tonight?” Andre inquired.
“We’re here for Troy and Lilly,” Nikki said instantly.
Andre crossed his bulky arms. “They’re not here. They’re at the airport.”
Nikki’s face fell. “For what?”
“They’re picking up Anna....”
Nikki mouthed an “Oh.” She looked at me awkwardly.
And I thought I was a crappy liar.
“Still want that steak?” Andre ordered, shooting Amanda a look. She got the hint and retreated to the counter.
“Yeah. Just ... you know, make it quick. I’m in the wrong place, apparently.”
I glanced over at Amanda, whose face was sour. She looked like she wanted to kill Nikki, almost as bad as Nikki wanted to kill her.
When the lodge door swung open, snowflakes and a draft swept the room.
But it warmed up instantly, because Thor Daman was there.
He removed his gray hat and goggles, and unzipped his matching down jacket. His blond hair was wild, his smile was crooked, and his stormy eyes twinkled as they mingled with mine.
Yeah, he still has that effect on me.
The Norse god fell into a chair beside me, leaned back in the seat, and grinned wide. “Hello, Adonia Morrison.”
“Hello, Mr. Daman. He just took our orders,” I said, pointing to Andre.
“No big deal. I’m not all that hungry.”
He looked at Nikki’s plate. “Beheading gingerbread men?”
She didn’t answer him; she was too distracted by Andre.
“They have bodies, you know,” Thor added, looking at them.
Nikki licked the crumbs from the corner of her mouth. “I know.”
Thor tittered. “You only eat heads?”
“What’s up with that wench?” Nikki motioned to Amanda with her nose.
Thor glanced her way. “I think it’s safe to say she’s a bit obsessed.”
And then—Snap!—another gingerbread body fell to Nikki’s plate.
“I think it’s safe to say she’s insane,” Nikki growled.
“Shhh!” Thor put a finger to his lips. “She might hear you.”
“Good,” Nikki snarled.
Thor leaned across the table, and smiled up at her. “Not good. She can get a bit nuts—don’t tick her off.”
“A bit?” Nikki laughed. “Really!”
Thor leaned back in his seat again, and blew out his cheeks. “I’ve been working here for nearly six months. Trust me—play nice.”
Nikki looked back at Andre by the grill. He’d set the steak on a plate and seasoned it with pepper, as he sung along to whatever played in his earbuds.
“What if I don’t want to play nice?”
Thor shrugged a shoulder. “You were warned.”
Nikki cleared her throat. “So! How was work, Mr. Snowboarding Instructor?”
Thor grabbed a gingerbread body off her plate and nipped an arm. “Decent. My toes are frozen.”
“You knew what you were getting yourself into,” Nikki teased.
“Definitely. And I’m enjoying it, too.”
Andre arrived with Nikki’s steak. “Here you go, gorgeous,” he said with a wink.
Nikki grinned. “Thanks.”
Andre licked his lips, and moved the knife under the meat. “Uh-huh.” His eyes brushed hers. “Careful...”
“You’re too sweet,” she cooed.
“I try.” They gazed at each other.
Nikki cut a piece of steak. “What time do you get off work?”
Andre twisted his lips. “Ten.”
“Yup. But hey, you’ve still got to head to the airport. I’m sure you won’t have time to miss me and my ... friendship ... much.”
Her gaze fell to her lap. Surely she was trying to stay composed. “I guess.”
She looked back up at him. “If you want to watch a movie when we get home....”
“We’ll see what happens.” He smiled, winked, and retreated to the counter.
Thor’s eyebrows gathered. “What’s at the airport?”
Nikki chewed some meat. “Lilly’s friend Anna. She’s spending her winter break with us.”
Thor pursed his lips thoughtfully.
I looked at my watch, growing a bit excited to see her again. “We should get going.”
I glanced at Thor. “Wanna come?”
“Always,” he said, a naughty look in his eyes.
I rolled my eyes. “To the airport, pervert!”
He chuckled. “Count me in, babe.”
Nikki cut faster, and wolfed down her steak. She motioned a piece toward Thor, and he opened his mouth for a bite.
“Almost done,” she said with her mouth full. “Think Anna will mind that we’re late?”
I peeked at Thor. “Somehow, I doubt it.”
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