I tried to remind myself not to run as I made my way down the hall and towards a lounge at the far end of the East Wing.
I didn't need them thinking I was any more suspicious than I already appeared. Especially if I was about to go around a gingerbread village shouting the name of one of Santa's elves. So with careful, easy steps I glided past boutique stores brimming with holiday cheer, or at least manufactured cheer. Even though there were trees in every window and wreaths hanging from every door, I felt the fabricated festiveness in their efforts. No amount of piped in Christmas music, holly topped bells, or glittering snowflakes could alter the fact that pricey products served as ornaments upon the trees and that the evergreen garland lined cash registers that chimed with one credit card purchase after another. Perhaps, I could have wandered into one of the stores and called out Alistair's name, but I knew he wouldn't come. This wasn't a real demonstration of the Christmas spirit, just an elegantly costumed materialism.
Not that I had any room to judge considering my own occupation. And I wasn't really judging, there was a certain merriment in finding the perfect gift for a loved one, however, I knew that if I was looking to summon an embodiment of Christmas cheer, I wasn't going to find it where people were shopping for the best deal or the most expensive gift.
Past the shopping arcade, the hallway opened up into a large circular room with a grand tree at its center. The towering spruce bore a twinkling star that nearly touched the domed glass ceiling of the lavish lobby. Large ornaments made with mother of pearl, gold gilt, and brightly color dyes, hung off the sturdy boughs and gleamed in the warm glow of the room's chandeliers. Red velvet bows and a string of white lights finished off the tree whose base was hidden by a circle of white poinsettias. Radiating out from the tree was a wide circle of display tables with gaps in between that allowed people to pass from one side to the other as they explored the enchanting exhibits.
On one table a merry steam engine weaved its way through a gingerbread town that included a clock tower nearly two feet high and decorated with gum drops. Another table had a quaint country village, the gingerbread adorned with intricate swirls of royal icing instead of being bedazzled with candies. Next to that was a table with a massive cookie ship and a peg-legged gingerbread captain. Then there was the scifi display with large sheets of gingerbread cracked into sharp shards to form a mesmerizing martian surface. There was also a sweet scene displaying the nativity, a diorama of an animal packed safari, and a replica of the hotel itself. Finally, there was a table with a busy little workshop where Santa's gingerbread elves were busy with wrapping packages of peppermint, licorice, and chocolate bars. Within that Christmas factory, I found one gingerbread man in particular that caught my eye. The craftsman was constructing an array of miniature gingerbread houses. He even had green candies for eyes.
"Alistair," I whispered with a smile.
"You rang?" The voice came low and warm, his breath brushing the hairs draped over my ear.
I twisted my neck, looking over my shoulder from the corner of my eye to find the elf himself, standing only a foot behind me, the warmth of his body building against my back.
"You've caused me quite a bit of trouble," I said, uncertain if I wanted to turn around and face him in full. "I need to get into that party you've had me booted from. My job depends on it."
"I thought your job was to design shoes, not market them?" he replied, a teasing twist to his words as he bowed lower in an attempt to meet my hesitant gaze.
"It's not always that easy." I pulled away, turning so that I faced him and added some space between us. He stood up straight, his hands sliding into the pockets of his freshly pressed pair of pants, whose color bordered black with just a tinge of green. They matched his suit jacket which he wore unbuttoned over a dress shirt the shade of seafoam. He didn't wear a tie that night, instead the top two buttons of his shirt were undone, revealing his long neck and a bit of his collarbone. I tried not to let me eyes linger there, but when I glanced up to meet his gaze, I knew that the red burning the tops of my cheeks would give my thoughts away.
"Anyway," I continued, after clearing my throat, "what are you going to do to fix this problem? I didn't agree to having my job put at risk when I signed up for this."
"I thought this had been unjustly thrust upon you, now we're negotiating terms?"
"I told you I'm not surrendering, so you're stuck with me." I found myself unable to hold his gaze as his smile widened. "But, that doesn't mean I'm not going to make demands along the way. I need to be in that party."
"Well, I don't control how the calendar works. If you want to discuss the finer points, you'll have to take it up with the big man himself. As for resolving this, right now, in this moment, perhaps you should stop relying on the power of your name and begin thinking creatively."
"What would you suggest then?" I asked, crossing my arms and tapping my foot.
"Asking me for answers is not thinking creatively, now is it?" He winked at me and once again a flush washed over my cheeks. How was I supposed to think clearly when he kept teasing me with his playful smile, bright eyes, and exposed neck that was just begging to have someone nuzzle into it and plant a kiss just above his collarbone...
"You all right? You've gone a bit glassy."
"Oh, uh, yes," I answered, shaking my head and reminding myself that now was not the time to wonder how long it had been since I kissed a man or even went on a date for that matter. The answer was clearly "long enough" if I was starting to find centuries-old elves attractive. "Um, I was just thinking that if you aren't going to help me, then I'll just have to find a way to crash the party."
"I never said I wouldn't help you, I just said I can't undo what the calendar has already done.
"Is that so?" I asked, turning my eyes up to find him watching me with a curious gaze. "So you wouldn't mind helping me create a distraction?"
"That doesn't sound too difficult," he answered, brushing the bottom of his lip with his finger. "What do you have in mind?"
"Well, first thing we need is to build a story and for that, we have to do some research." My lips curled into an impish grin, which he matched in full. "Come with me, we're heading back to the lobby."
What plan has Jessica concocted and will Alistair really help her undo what the calendar has done?
This one is a short chapter, but it just felt like this was the point to stop. I have a feeling the next chapter will be a long one so maybe it will make up for it.
YOU ARE READING
Jessica Sullivan knows what Christmas is all about -- sales. For her, the best present on Christmas Day is a sales report showing her shoes have sold well beyond expectations, capping off another successful year as a bright star in the fashion indus...