The Grump Who Stole Christmas
by S. Doyle
Book 1 in the Kringle Family Christmas Trilogy
Home for the holidays…
That should be a good thing, right? Eggnog and Christmas carols. Mistletoe and family. Except my dad broke his leg hanging the family wreath. My brothers are at war over taking proper care of Dad. Oh, and I just found out our family business, the Kringle Inn, is failing!
The last thing I need is this mysterious new guy, who runs the Kringle tree farm, interfering. He’s big, bearded and grumpy. He wears a lot of flannel and he does NOT like taking orders. Especially from me. We can’t agree on anything other than saving the business.
Even if we have to kill each other doing it.
Or kiss each other doing it…
Because I might be falling for the guy.
My name is Kristen, don’t call me Kris, Kringle and this is a Christmas Romance Emergency!
Holiday Contemporary Romance
I don't know if kindle tracks tropes, but this novella has been popping up in my recommendations for a year now, so I decided, what the hell, and gave it a go. I adore the whole grump and sunshine trope, after all. The fact that it was connected to the Kane Christmas Trilogy was a bonus, honestly. Since I like S. Doyle's contribution to the Kane Christmas series, I'm not overly surprised that I loved this one as well.
The Grump Who Stole Christmas' setting is CLASSIC Hallmark Christmas movie gold. Small town that LOVES Christmas. The Kringle family, - and no, this is no Santa retelling - the family this trilogy centers around, own a 20-acre Christmas Tree Farm, and popular Inn. A now failing inn. The successful, city dweller daughter comes home to take care of her father, who has broken his leg, only to encounter a burly, yet handsome man, who she learns later now manages her family tree farm. And when she discovers the business is in the red, she uses her talents to turn things around. But that is where the Hallmark cookie cutter romance stops, because along with some great banter and sizzling chemistry, this little novella is steamy! Seriously. Steamy.
If you can get past some editing issues (in fact, throughout the kindle version, you will see words crossed out, as if it was edited, but no one erased the words that were being corrected), The Grump Who Stole Christmas is a fun, energetic read, that will lead to you picking up the next book right away.
Kristen: “Are you putting me on? Is this like some kind of humble country boy routine? Because I promise you, I’m not impressed. You know what would impress me? Changing the tire.”
He glared at me then.
Paul: “It’s late. It’s snowing. You’ve been as nice as a fucking porcupine while I’m trying to do this. Do you seriously think I’m faking?”
Kristen: “Maybe?” Kristen: “I’m in the insurance industry. Risk assessment is what I do. You can’t get any leverage with just your arms, or with one foot, so you need to jump on it with both feet.”
Paul: “What, now?”
I pointed to the tire iron still connected to the lug nut.
Kristen: “Jump on it. You know just jump on the tire iron. Both feet, same time, all your weight. It’s physics.”
I said slowly, in case he didn’t know what physics was.
Paul: “Oh, physics! You mean like Phys. Ed? Gym class? Funny, I don’t remember jumping on a tire iron as part of my curriculum.”
He was stroking his beard in a thoughtful way that made me feel like I was being put on. Kristen: “You expect me to just get in the car with you? A stranger? Has this been your plan all along?”
Paul: “Oh come on, lady!”
he shouted, staring up at the falling snow.
Paul: “If I were going to kill you, trust me, I would have done it right after the whole patronizing sc-ie-n-ce comment. Now get in the car, so I can unload you as soon as I possibly can.”
I sniffed, feeling slightly insulted.
Kristen: “Can I get my suitcase?”
he said flatly. I opened the back door and pulled out my suitcase, which he picked up for me and easily walked back to his car.
Kristen: “It’s not too heavy is it?”
I poked at him, as I followed.
Kristen: “Wouldn’t want you to tear your gut up.”
He stopped and stared at me then. I was pretty sure, had his eyes been laser beams, I would have been a dead woman. Kristen: “How far are we from town?”
Paul: “A few minutes. Or a lifetime, depending on one’s perspective,” Kristen: “So you live in Salt Springs?”
Paul: “I do.”
Kristen: “But you’re not from here or we would have met at some point.”
Paul: “Correct. But I have heard about you. From your dad. He thinks you’re pretty cool.”
I couldn’t help but smile. My father has always been my biggest fan.
Kristen: “See? He doesn’t think I’m crazy.”
Paul: “Well, fathers can be blind to their children’s faults.” Ethan: “Why the interest?”
I rolled my eyes.
Kristen: “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because he’s living in the house with Dad.”
Ethan: “That’s temporary.”
Kristen: “And now I’m living in the house with Dad. What if he’s a secret serial killer or something?”
Ethan: “Well, no one has died yet. If he starts with you, who does that say more about? Him or you?”
I narrowed my eyes and focused my death glare, which sadly Ethan couldn’t see.
Kristen: “You know I can still take you in a fight, don’t you?”
There was a pause.
Ethan: “I’m pretty sure you can’t.”
Kristen: “Hide your nipples, Ethan. Goodbye, my brother.”
Ethan: “Kris, wait…”
Too late. I’d already disconnected the call. The key to handling two younger brothers who were significantly larger and stronger than I was, was to instill the fear of the random nipple twist. Never let them see it coming, but always make sure they knew the threat was real. Kristen: “I’m not freaking out about my age. I’m thirty-six,”
I admitted, like it was no big deal. He nodded.
Paul: “Oh yeah. You’re freaking out.”
My eyes narrowed.
Kristen: “Why? Because of my biological clock? Because I’ve spent the last fifteen years focused on my career, instead of family? And now, in the last hour of my reproductive window, I’m panicking because it might be too late for me to fall in love and have a bunch of babies with someone? How stereotypical do you think I am?”
Paul: “Right. No, sorry. Clearly, you’re not freaking out. I smiled over the rim of my boss lady coffee mug and showed him all my teeth.
Paul: “You’re scaring the fuck out of me right now,” Paul: “I knew you wanted that brownie earlier tonight. You were trying to act all disinterested, but as I noted, you’re not that good of an actress.”
Kristen: “I don’t eat sugar,”
I said, haughtily. That’s what I always said when anyone offered me dessert. You couldn’t be a hard ass in Manhattan and eat sugar. At least I didn’t think so. It seemed so silly now.
Paul: “Yeah. Me either.”
Kristen: “You still have a chocolate ring around your lips. Brownie crumbs are literally in your beard.”
He laughed then as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and I couldn’t help it. I laughed too. Kristen: “We don’t pay you?”
Kristen: “You just run the tree farm out of the goodness of your heart?”
Paul: “I never said I had a good heart. You give me food and lodging. Pops is going to sell me a piece of property around the cabin. When I’m done renovating it, I’ll move out there. That in exchange for managing the farm.”
Kristen: “Yes, but how are you going to live?”
Paul: “I’ll make do. The point is I want to live simply. A roof, a reliable car…”
Kristen: “You drive a Tesla,”
I pointed out. Reliable was like the last thing someone thought of when they thought of a Tesla.
Paul: “It’s good for the environment. I’m an arborist, remember?”
Kristen: “That’s it then? That’s the plan? Live simple and manage the trees.”
Paul: “Can you think of something better?”
I said, nearly offended.
Kristen: “Everything would be better. A better job, a real salary, a home, a family.”
Paul: “I didn’t say I wasn’t going to have those things. In fact, once the cabin is finished I’m going to start looking.”
Kristen: “Looking for what?"
Paul: “A wife.”
My jaw dropped. I knew this because he used his knuckles under my chin to shut it. Kristen: “Let’s make this clear, right now. You are not to come into my room without an invitation.”
I made my eyes go wide.
Paul: “Kay-Kay, are you planning on inviting me into your bedroom?”
She sputtered. Clamped her jaw shut. Then she glared at me so hard my dick started to twitch. I coughed and leaned over to pick up her mug and put it in her hands. She took it like a troll might take payment for crossing the bridge. Kristen: “I’m just trying to fit all the pieces I know about you into one picture and I have to tell you, it looks like a Picasso.”
Paul: “Because I look like a million dollars?”
Kristen: “No, because you’re crooked and a little disjointed.”
Paul: “Fair enough.” There were articles upon articles about him throughout the years. Puff pieces about agriculture’s latest heartthrob. Okay, maybe he was a little handsome, but heartthrob? The guy couldn’t even change a tire. There was a knock on the door. Jasmine turned in her seat to greet the visitor while I scowled at the intruder. Jasmine: “What do you want?”
Paul: “Kay-Kay, did you ever think maybe the reason you’re losing customers is because you greet them with that horrible scowl?”
Kristen: “My scowl is not horrible. It’s intimidating.”
Paul held up his hands and shook them in mock panic.
Paul: “I’m so intimidated.” Paul: "What are you guys doing anyway?”
Jasmine: “We’re coming up with sexy themed cabins,”
Kristen: “We are not! There is no sex in Christmas.”
Paul came into the office and instantly it felt that much smaller. He filled the space with his shoulders and his flannel shirt and his beard. He leaned a hip against the table and thoughtfully stroked his bearded chin.
Paul: “Hmm. That’s not a bad idea. Maybe you could make sexy elf costumes and leave them in the closets for customers to find. You know, instead of those big soft robes.”
Jasmine: “Nothing cuter than a sexy elf,”
Jasmine giggled. Like a freaking sexy elf.
Kristen: “For the last time. We’re not doing sex-themed cabins. I was thinking of using the reindeer.”
Jasmine: “Sexy reindeer? I don’t know if that would work,”
Kristen: “They’re not sexy reindeer. They’re just reindeer. You know Donner. Blitzen. Dasher. Pantser.”
Paul: “I’m sure that’s not right.”
Jasmine: “Oooh, Cupid. That can be a sexy cabin. I’m just not sure how you would make Blitzen sexy.”
I was going to kill her.
Kristen: “So if she’s not the reason you don’t mess around with corporate types any more, then what is?”
He leaned down a little so that he was closer to me. Or maybe I was leaning a little closer to him?
Paul: “Silk blouses.”
I asked, struggling to understand the meaning behind his words.
Paul: “I hate silk blouses. Total turnoff for me,”
he said, his voice gruff in a way that sort of belied what he was saying. I touched the silk collar around my neck. The button that fell just at the dip in my collarbone.
Kristen: “You don’t like the feel of silk?”
I asked, my finger trailing down just to the upper swell of my breast.
he said, even as his eyes followed my finger.
Kristen: “Hmm. That’s a shame. I happen to have a lot of silk blouses.”
Paul: “Then I guess it’s a good thing we don’t like each other all that much. What with all that silk you’re wearing, I would never be tempted to touch you.”
I whispered. Was his face getting closer to mine?
Kristen: “Good thing.”
Paul: “You like any vegetables to go with that pasta?”
Kristen: “I only eat lettuce.”
Paul: “Figures. Okay, Kay-Kay, I’ll hook you up.”
He moved away from me and was already walking out of the office while I still felt like I’d been enthralled by a snake charmer.
Kristen: “What just happened?”
I asked the empty room.
Kristen: “And why do I have this urge to buy flannel shirts?” Paul: “You know what you need to do?”
she asked, her voice soft. She was looking at me like maybe I really had the answer she needed.
Paul: “You should get married and have babies.”
Paul: “Yep. Get barefoot and pregnant.”
I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep a straight face.
Paul: “Start learning how to bake chocolate chip cookies and stuff. You know you’re never going to be fulfilled as a woman, until you do that.”
Kristen: “I’m going to kill you now.”
Paul: “Look, I would help you out, but you know my aversion to all things silk. So you’re going to have to find a nice fella on your own. Someone who can be the man of the house. Someone who wears the pants in the family.”
Kristen: “You mean someone who can change a flat tire?”
Paul: “Exactly!” Ethan: “Kris, what the hell is Jasmine arranging? What is supposed to be happening tomorrow?”
Kristen: “We’re going to pick up our very famous brother from the airport who is home for Christmas.”
Ethan: “I don’t have time for this, Kris. Okay? I’ve got a town to run. Forget the fact that if I see Matt, I’m most likely going to want to punch him in the face, but I don’t have time for bullshit nonsense.”
Kristen: “It’s not bullshit nonsense. We need some press coverage if we’re going to save the season, and we need to save the season if we’re going to save the inn. I’m the oldest and I say you’re going to show up tomorrow in your best suit and we’re both going to be thrilled that our baby brother has decided to grace us with his presence for the holidays.”
Paul: “Boss Lady,”
I muttered. Both Kay-Kay and Ethan glared at me.
Paul: “What? She’s good at it.” If Ethan hadn’t walked in, would it have actually happened, or would he have pulled away at the last second? Like Lucy pulling away the football. Only I didn’t know if I even wanted his football. I didn’t have time for footballs. I had to save the inn, help my dad. There were decisions to make. Big life decisions that were going to have a major impact on my future.
Kristen: “Screw him and his football,”
I said aloud to the empty room. Her leaving was better for no one. But I wasn’t so naïve to think I was living in some damn Hallmark Christmas movie where the woman from the big city comes home only to find she misses her small town life and wants to give everything up for the Christmas tree farmer. Fucking lame-ass plot. Then it all seemed to happen in a blur. Suddenly Ethan and Matt the Mountain, his NHL nickname, were fighting.
Pops: “And there they go,”
Pops said with a harrumph as we both watched the TV.
Pops: “Never could go two minutes without pissing each other off.”
Was this really happening? Were they fighting? Was it serious?
Paul: “Oh shit,”
I said, squinting at the TV as I watched Kay dive into the fray.
Paul: “Is that a nipple twist? Is she giving the Mountain a nipple twist on television?”
Pops: “My daughter can be ruthless. And she knows how to make those two stop fighting. This isn’t good. This isn’t going to look good for Matt or Ethan. How many times do I have to tell those boys to think first before they act?”
Reflexively, I put my hands over my own nipples. I would have to let Kay know I liked a little pressure on my nipples when I had sex, but twisting them would be out of the question.
Wait? Was I already planning for when we had sex? I was so fucked. Kristen: “I got off last night!”
Kristen: “I know I said I wouldn’t, but I just couldn’t not do it. So I, you know, used my fingers…and I came. Just felt like I had to confess that.”
His face darkened then.
Paul: “You came?”
Kristen: “Twice actually, which I’ve never really been able to pull off before. So good on you for giving me some proper motivation.”
Paul: “Motivation? What the…you came? What about sleeping in the ache?”
he shouted. Okay, maybe this wasn’t the smartest confession I’d ever made.
Kristen: “I couldn’t get to sleep,”
Paul: “No? Neither could I! I was up all freaking night long with a hard dick. But did I touch myself? Oh no, because I was sleeping in the ache.”
I had the good sense to look contrite. I shrugged my shoulders.
His face turned an even darker shade of red.
Paul: “Apology not accepted. You owe me an orgasm. Two orgasms!”
Kristen: “How do you figure that?”
Paul: “Because you had two, and I had none, so you owe me. That’s exactly how I figured that.”
Kristen: “Fine. Sure,”
I said, stomping past him into the cabin.
Kristen: “We’re alone here. I’ll give you an orgasm!”
Paul: “Two orgasms,”
he shouted behind me, even as he shut the now-functioning front door behind him. I turned to face him and raised one eyebrow.
Kristen: “You’re getting up there close to forty, aren’t you? Can you do two orgasms without some medical intervention?”
That was definitely the wrong thing to say. He pushed into my personal space and bent down so that our noses were practically touching.
Paul: “Try me,”
he grumbled. Paul: “Now, we do have to cover a few things first,”
he said kissing my shoulder. Then the space between my breasts. My bra had a front clasp, which he deftly unhooked. My nipples were hard and tight little buds in anticipation of his touch.
Kristen: “What things?”
I asked, as I moved my body to hopefully align my nipple with his mouth. But he was pressing kisses all around my breast, teasing me with his lips.
Paul: “You have beautiful nipples,”
he said as he hovered over them.
Paul: “I want to play with them and I’ll let you play with mine, but to be clear, there should be no twisting involved.”
A small wave of embarrassment washed over me.
Kristen: “You saw that, huh?”
Paul: “Yep. Let me tell you, I had to think long and hard about letting you anywhere near my nipples.”
He took my hand and rested my fingers over one of his hard buds, which were hiding under a smattering of dark chest hair.
Paul: “But I’ve decided to trust you.” Paul: “Kay-Kay, don’t get weird on me. We’re two adults who can be mature about this. We had sex. It’s not a big deal.”
It was a big deal. It hadn’t just been hot sex. It had been meaningful sex. But if I said that, I had a feeling she would freak out. She grimaced.
Kristen: “I know. I wish I could be one of those cool people, but I just don’t do it that often…so I’m not. Cool. You should have seen me the first time I had to put a dildo in my mouth during blow-job class. Total loser. But I will strive to be less weird. I promise.”
And that was it. The moment it happened.
I’d heard about stuff like this in movies and books. On television. That moment when you fell in love. I thought the concept was ridiculous. You can’t possibly know the minute it’s happening. Love is a slow burning experience that happens over time. It’s why they used the term falling. It was a drop, a descent from being a stranger to someone, to being a person to someone, to being in love. I hadn’t been in love with my fiancé when things ended, but I had always figured eventually I would get there because I really enjoyed her company. Only I was wrong. Because in that moment when I had to visualize high-powered business executive Kristen Kringle in a sex class in Manhattan with a dildo in her mouth so she could master blow jobs and get an A, I knew. That was the moment I fell in love with her. Kristen: “You’re really not going to give me my panties back?”
Paul: “Not in this lifetime. Now head to the car, woman, and I’ll drive you back home. Because that’s what a gentleman does.”
Her eyebrow arched.
Kristen: “Oh really? Would a gentleman hold on to my underwear?”
I said with a straight face.
Paul: “Page one of the Gentleman Handbook: always keep the panties.” Kristen: "How could I come home and tell you I failed at that level?”
He scrunched up his face.
Pops: “Because I’m your father. Because no matter what happens in your life, I’m here to support you. Love you. Tell you that those fuckers are assholes for firing you.”
Kristen: “Dad! Your language!”
Pops: “Your mother isn’t here to chastise me, so I can say what I want. You tell me everything, Kristen. All of it. Part of the joy of being a parent is that I don’t just live my life, I get to experience yours too. All the highs and the lows. I want to know everything. You’re not out there on your own trying to handle everything yourself. You always have me in your corner. Always. " I took a deep breath and stared up at the pines surrounding me.
Kristen: “Are you listening to me, trees? Because I don’t think you are!”
Paul: “Just so you know, the trees don’t actually answer.” He shrugged.
Paul: “I could tell you I tried to get your attention, but I didn’t. This time I was just listening to you.”'
Kristen: “What did you hear?”
I asked him, my eyes narrowing.
Paul: “That you really, really like me.”
He took a few steps forward. His bearded face and flannel-covered chest came into focus through his headlights.
Kristen: “Figures you would focus on that.”
He smiled so that I could see his white teeth.
Paul: “It was the best part.” Kristen: “I’m going to need someone who is there for me, who supports me, who has my back when I need to be focused on my work. Someone who will have coffee waiting for me in the morning and dinner ready for me at night. Do you know what I’m asking? Do you see how big this job would be? Paul McCleer, I’m asking you to be my wife.”
Again, he nodded thoughtfully, then he smiled so brightly I knew I would never ever forget this moment. I wasn’t going to have lunch and spa days with the future Mrs. McCleer. I was going to be the future Mrs. McCleer.
He kissed me then, and suddenly I wasn’t in my head at all. There were no questions, no decisions to be made, no second-guessing. There was just us. In this moment. He pulled away, but only a little bit, and frowned.
Paul: “I still get to wear pants though, right?”
Kristen: “We’ll see.”