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Saturday Book Tease
All Lt. Shane McCall wanted for Christmas... was to save her from the mafia!
Welcome, readers, to another Saturday Book Tease. Today’s excerpt comes from Book 4 in my award-winning Green Beret series, Saving Christmas.
This book follows interrogation specialist Lt. Shane McCall, also known as Badger in the field.
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All Lt. Shane McCall wanted for Christmas…was to save her from the mafia!
Left on the doorstep of an orphanage Christmas morning, Christmas Jones grew up knowing nothing about her biological parents. But on the eve of her twenty-fifth birthday, everything changed. A letter delivered by a lawyer reveals her origins but opens a Pandora’s box of danger!
Home on leave for the holidays, Lt. Shane McCall, codename Badger, looked forward to spending time with family. Little did he know, a quick detour to his favorite diner would end in meeting a beautiful girl and then saving her life!
Drawn in by her fiery spirit and endearing vulnerability, Shane can’t resist. When Chris insists on pursuing answers arising from both events, he knows he can’t let her go it alone. But will the stubborn woman let him help without bucking him every step of the way? As each answer leads to more questions, Chris discovers her past is inextricably tied to two feuding mafia families and a cold case of missing millions of illegal gambling money.
Each new clue reveals even more danger, and somewhere between butting heads and running down leads, love blooms. But some bad relationships in her past are preventing Chris from accepting Shane’s incredibly sexy attention in the present. And the guilt he carries deep inside for so many of the things he’s done may stop any shot at a future with the beautiful, feisty Christmas Jones. When she goes missing, Shane must go dark to save her from unscrupulous criminals convinced that she alone is the key to the stolen millions. Will he save Christmas in time?
Stiffed again. Christmas Jones removed the empty coffee mug and pie plate from the table, grumbling under her breath. She hated the holidays. New York City attracted more tourists in the weeks leading up to Christmas. For retailers, it was a blessing. For Frankie’s Diner, it was a curse. For Chris, it meant getting stiffed on tips by chintzy tourists who figured they could get away with being jerks. Her regulars still came by, but usually less often to avoid the crowds or to spend time with loved ones. This meant she had to hustle twice as hard to earn her usual income in order to pay exorbitant rent on a shoebox apartment. It also meant she was not in the mood for Frankie’s annual holiday joke.
“Hey, kid,” he said, turning up the antique radio on the counter. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” He sang the tune, a big smile on his wrinkled face. His serenading failed to pull her from her foul mood. Frankie DeSanti sighed. At sixty-nine, he’d owned and run Frankie’s Diner in Brooklyn for thirty years. Before him, it was Ernie’s Place, owned by Frankie’s uncle Ernie Russo. Ernie never had any children. When he died, he left the diner to Frankie who renamed it, but kept the same menu to honor his uncle. Italian and American comfort foods were served along with the best coffee in the neighborhood and, local legendary baker, Miss Evangeline’s homemade pies.
Chris deposited the dirty dishes in the kitchen. Big Mike picked them up and placed them in the sink, washing away the food debris. He’d been with Frankie for twenty of his thirty years of business, quietly washing the dishes every day. Chris couldn’t even remember a day in the three years she’d worked here when Big Mike wasn’t in the kitchen scrubbing food off plates and forks and knives. He always wore yellow rubber gloves and a green bandana tied around his balding head. A few wisps of gray hair poked out around his large ears, but she’d never seen him without his head covered. He didn’t speak much either, but he wasn’t mute. If Big Mike had something to say, a person ought to listen. He observed everything, never missing a detail; a fact realized when he did open his mouth. Because his words were so few, they carried a lot of weight, and he only shared them when he felt it was important.
Now was not one of those times. Chris returned to the front. In addition to the booths, the diner had an old-fashioned counter with a row of barstools riveted to the floor. A man sat at the end of the row sipping coffee. He’d been in every day over the past two weeks. He sat in the same spot and ordered the same thing; a cup of coffee and a slice of hot apple pie. He had a rough look about him, like a life hard lived. Dingy gray strands mingled with his dark hair. He needed a haircut, but it was the scar on his right cheek that stood out. The jagged cut zig-zagged over his cheekbone off into his hairline. The skin around it was puckered like it hadn’t healed properly. It looked painful. Besides the scar, old tattoos littered his hands continuing up under the sleeves of his black leather jacket. Prison tats, she guessed. The only jewelry he wore was a gold crucifix around his neck.
She normally wouldn’t have noticed so much about a customer, especially a new one, but this man creeped her out. It wasn’t his tattoos or even his scary scar. It was the way he looked at her. She’d felt his eyes on her every time he came in, but when she turned to look his way, he was always staring down at his plate or his coffee cup. She mentioned it to Big Mike after the third day. He looked out through the pass-through from the kitchen, observing the man a moment, and then shrugged. Chris figured if Big Mike didn’t notice anything off about the strange man, then she shouldn’t worry about him either. It was good advice, so why did she still feel creeped out?
Customers coming through the door pulled Chris’s attention away from the creepy man. A gust of cold wind followed a small group of people inside. They waited to be seated before noticing the sign that read “Seat Yourself.”
Tourists, she thought, shaking her head. Another man came in behind them. He noticed the sign right away. Chris noticed him.
He looked like Captain America. Tall, dark blond, and broad-shouldered. He had the face of a model, but the haircut and bearing of a military man. He looked around the crowded interior before deciding on a stool at the counter. There were only three left. He chose the empty one two seats over from the creep. Shrugging out of his leather jacket, he placed it over the back of the stool, and dropped a military duffel bag on the open seat to the right.
Chris noticed the size of his arms beneath the thermal weave of his black Henley. He obviously worked out. She sighed, appreciating the eye candy he provided. Not that a guy like that would ever notice her, but maybe her day was about to improve. She pulled the pad out of her apron pocket and walked his way.
“Welcome to Frankie’s. What can I get for you?”
The handsome man scanned the menu on the wall, then answered, “Coffee, black, and a slice of Miss Evangeline’s lemon meringue pie please.”
Surprised, Chris asked, “You know Miss Evangeline?” Most people didn’t notice where the pies came from, only the variety.
He looked up, his eyes taking her in. Chris noticed they were as blue as the ocean, fringed in dark lashes.
The man gave her a quick once-over lingering a half-second longer than necessary on her breasts before locking eyes. He smiled and Chris felt her cheeks warm.
“Of course. I grew up on Miss E’s pies. She’s the best.”
“You’re from here? I’ve never seen you before,” she said.
“Been overseas the past few years. This is the first trip home I’ve had in a while.” He extended his hand. “Shane McCall.”
She hesitated, then placed her hand in his. It was warm but rough, his grip firm. “Chris Jones. Military?”
“Yes ma’am,” he said. Her stomach did a happy flip. “U.S. Army Green Beret.”
“Sounds intense. What do you do in the army?”
He grinned. “Whatever my commanders tell me, ma’am.” Shane gave the usual reply.
Chris knew he was messing with her. She shook her head, a half-smile on her lips. “Well, Shane, welcome home. I’ll get your order right out to you.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said, watching her leave, an appreciative smile on his handsome face.
Chris felt his eyes on her and blushed. It was a good thing he couldn’t see her face. She reached up to grab a coffee mug and filled it to the rim. Then, she plated a thick slice of lemon meringue pie, just a bit larger than a normal slice, and carried them both back to the good-looking soldier. It wasn’t everyday she encountered such a gorgeous man. Heck, it wasn’t even every month. She hadn’t dated at all in over a year, blaming her work schedule. She worked as many hours as Frankie would allow overtime trying to make ends meet. That left no time in between for a personal life. At least, that’s what she told herself. It was easier than facing the fact that men didn’t usually pay her any attention. They liked her well enough, but apparently not enough to ask her out. She tried not to dwell on it, but now and again, old wounds reopened reminding her she wasn’t any man’s first choice. Still, feeling Captain America’s blue eyes upon her reminded her of what she’d been missing. She told herself he was just playing around and not being serious at all.
“One coffee, black, and one big slice of Miss Evangeline’s lemon meringue pie as ordered.” She set the items down in front of him. “There’s sugar and cream here if you need them,” she added, pointing to the carousel on the counter.
A man wearing a long Navy-blue coat over a dark suit approached. He was mid-fifties, dark-haired, and resembled a character from a Godfather movie.
“Yes?” she replied, surprised. She had no idea who this man was or how he knew her full name. Other than Frankie and Big Mike, no one else in the diner knew her first name was Christmas.
He pulled an envelope from the inside breast pocket of his jacket. It was a thick, cream-colored vellum and looked official. “This is for you.” He pulled out a card adding it to the envelope which he handed over. “If you have any questions, call the number on the card.” He turned to leave.
“Wait! What’s this about? Am I in trouble?” She had no idea what was going on.
He glanced over his shoulder. “All I know is that envelope is for Christmas Jones. You’re Christmas Jones. Any questions, call the number on the card. Good day, miss.” He left her standing there holding the official-looking cream-colored envelope.
Chris stared at it like it was a snake that might bite. Her name was typed on the outside along with the hand-written words, “To be opened on your twenty-fifth birthday.” Her birthday was tomorrow. December the 8th. She had no idea who it was from or what it was about. She glanced at the card. The name Leo Profacci was embossed in gold lettering. Beneath the name it read Attorney at Law. But it didn’t say for whom or for which firm. There was a phone number and nothing else.
Chris looked at the soldier. She shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t know what that was about,” she said, putting the envelope into the pocket of the apron tied around her waist. Reaching up, she tightened her ponytail and then tugged the hem of her blue sweater down over her jeans.
He pointed at her pocket with his fork. “Then I suspect you’ll find the answers inside that envelope.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Absently, Chris reached for her necklace. It was a silver medallion with a blue enamel rendering of the Virgin Mary. She rubbed it with her thumb, her thoughts all over the map.
He watched her. “So, Christmas, is it?”
“What?” she refocused her attention outward. “Oh, yeah.”
“Your parents big fans of the holiday or something?”
She stiffened, dropping the necklace back down into her shirt. “I don’t know. The nuns named me. I was found on their doorstep on Christmas morning.”
Shane McCall put down his fork. Quietly, he said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pried.”
The creepy man with the hideous scar lunged across the counter reaching for her neck.
Chris screamed, falling backwards as hands clawed at her throat.
“Give me that!” he shouted. The man pushed Chris against the wall.
Strong arms reached out grabbing the creepy man, yanking him off Chris before throwing him bodily over the counter. The creep landed hard rolling into the legs of an occupied booth. The loud crash sent customers scattering out of the way. Shane jumped over the counter going after the man who got up and ran for the door. He knocked customers out of the way, scrambling through the crowd. Once he gained the street, he took off running.
Shane watched him go, ready to pursue the man but he remembered the young woman. Turning, he spotted her. She was holding her throat, tears welling in her big, brown eyes. A large man wearing a green bandana came running out of the kitchen followed by an older man limping behind him.
All three rushed to her side.
“Are you okay?” Shane put his arm around Chris and helped her around the counter to a stool.
“Chris, sweetie,” said the older man, “what the hell happened?” He looked at her and then at Shane. “What are you doing here?”
“Frankie, good to see you. Big Mike,” said Shane, looking at the big man. “can we save the reunion until we see to your employee?”
Big Mike nodded, a world of concern in his eyes. “Hey, kid, what happened?”
Chris tried to get her breathing under control. She was in shock and completely shaken. In all her twenty-four years, she’d never been attacked, and she lived in New York City! Her neck hurt and when she pulled her hand away, there was blood on her fingers. Shallow scratches from the creepy man’s fingernails had drawn blood. She reached for her necklace automatically. It was still there. Relief flooded her. The necklace was all she had, the only link to her birth mother. She didn’t know her, didn’t even know her name. All she knew was her mother died in childbirth and someone had left the baby at the doorstep of the St. Agnes orphanage on Christmas morning. The information was scarce and the necklace merely a small token, but it was all she had, and that creepy man had tried to take it from her. Why?
“I don’t know. He just attacked me out of nowhere. I knew there was something off about him!” She threw an accusing look at Big Mike.
The big man nodded. “Yeah, but looking off isn’t a crime.”
“Attacking a woman is a crime. Frankie,” said Shane. “You need to call the police, file a report. I’ll be a witness.”
Frankie nodded and reached out, patting Chris’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry, kid. Here,” he handed her a towel for her neck, “for the bleeding.”
Shane took it. “Best to wait on that, Frankie. The police will need to collect any DNA evidence left behind. Sorry, ma’am,” he apologized. “It’s all they’ll have besides a description of him and an eye-witness account.” He looked around at the corners of the diner. “I guess you still haven’t put in security cameras, Frankie?”
The old man shook his head. “Never needed them before. Guess it’s time. Damn shame what the world is coming to,” he said, shuffling off to call the police.
Big Mike silently fumed. “Been telling him we needed some security ‘round here. He lives in the past, does Frankie. Thinks people are still good and honest. He don’t know what we know, Shane.”
Chris listened to their exchange, watching in fascination as Big Mike, who rarely spoke, carried on a short, easy conversation with the handsome soldier. It was obvious Big Mike and Frankie knew him, but at that moment, she was just thankful he was there to pull the creepy man off her. She shuddered to think what would’ve happened otherwise.
“Thank you, Shane.”
McCall looked at her. She was a beautiful young woman with dark brown, curly hair and olive-toned skin. He couldn’t quite pin if she was African-American, Puerto Rican or Italian or some mix in between, but whatever she was, she was stunning. Her skin glowed. She had high cheekbones and full lips that stretched into a gorgeous smile. He’d noticed her right away and admitted to himself he’d checked her out as she went about her duties pouring coffee and serving up his delicious dessert. Even so, he didn’t think the crazy, creepy man had attacked her out of misguided lust.
“He wanted your necklace,” he said, looking at the vee of her blue sweater.
“What?” She glanced down at the silver chain.
“He said, “Give me that!” when he attacked you. He was reaching for your necklace. Any idea why? Do you know him or recognize him from anywhere?”
“No. He just started coming around two weeks ago. I told Big Mike he creeped me out, but other than staring, he hadn’t said or done anything until today. But why now?”
Shane shrugged, trying to put two and two together. As an interrogator at Black Site Alpha, Kuwait, he was used to forcing information out of unwilling terrorists. This was different. Christmas Jones was a victim, not a perpetrator, and she’d been the one attacked. He softened his tone. “Do you think maybe it might have to do with that envelope in your pocket? That man attacked you immediately after you received it. Maybe it wasn’t your necklace, but the envelope he was after.”
“What envelope?” Frankie joined them once again.
Big Mike watched the exchange between Chris and Shane, curious.
Chris shrugged. “I have no idea. I don’t even know what’s in it.” She pulled it out.
“Then open it, for Christ’s sakes,” said Frankie.
“It says to only open it on my birthday. That’s not until after midnight.” She knew that sounded lame. Who was going to stop her? The envelope police?
Shane’s eyebrows quirked. “It’s your call, but the police are going to have all kinds of questions. It’s best if you can give them something solid to go on. Otherwise, that man will most likely show up again.”
The very idea scared the bejesus out of her. Chris nodded and eyed the envelope. Taking a deep breath, she opened it.
Continuing reading Saving Christmas. Click here to download.
Are you a binge reader? Get the Green Beret Box Set (books 1 - 4) here.
See you next week!
Michele’s Substack is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.