Better Naughty Than Nice

By: Vicki Lewis Thompson

BY: Vicki Lewis Thompson & Jill Shalvis & Rhonda Nelson


For Rhonda Nelson, who dreamed up

Damon Claus in the first place.

I cherish your warm heart…

and your twisted sense of humor.





NO MISTLETOE REQUIRED



Vicki Lewis Thompson





Prologue



CALLED ON the braided rug again, Damon Claus thought, taking a smooth drag from the cigarette in his mouth. Another year, another Christmas, another ass-chewing. He blew a couple of blue-tinged smoke rings and smiled when they magically morphed into a pert pair of breasts.

“Stop that,” his brother admonished from his arm chair positioned in front of the toasty fire. “The elves might see.”Screw those little do-gooding green-garbed bastards, Damon thought. He’d always hated them. It was bad enough being the brother to the most famous holiday figure in all of mankind—the big SC himself, Santa Claus—but constantly having the elves and their “commitment to the cause” rammed down his throat his entire life had created a bitter sense of resentment Damon was hard pressed to shake. He leaned against the mantle and idly rearranged the nutcrackers into lewd positions.

Muttering under his breath, Santa set his hot cocoa aside and lumbered up from his poofy chair. “Oh, for the love of mistletoe,” his brother grumbled. He disentangled the little figurines and bent them upright again. “Damon, this has gone on long enough. You’re a Claus—you’re going to have to start acting like one. Let me bring you into the business,” he implored for what felt like the hundredth time. “I’ll put you in charge of the stables. You’ve always had a way with animals.”

Damon snorted. A stable boy? A token post? He thought not. “Sorry, Tubs,” Damon told him. “Not interested.”

Santa’s usually jolly face took a serious turn. “I figured as much. The only thing you seem to be interested in is thumbing your nose at family tradition and wreaking havoc during our busiest season. Christmas cheer has already taken a huge hit due to the rampant commercialism of our holiday, but you seem to delight in finding new ways to make people miserable. Stripping the ornaments from the tree in Times Square, busting up that Christmas parade—”

Damon grinned, remembering fondly. That had been some of his best work.

“Not to mention impersonating me and handing out condoms at FAO Schwarz.”

“I was promoting safe sex,” Damon argued, blinking innocently. He spied The List from the corner of his eye on the edge of his brother’s desk and a new plan took hold. “What was the harm in that?”

Rather than respond, Santa merely looked heavenward as though summoning patience from a divine source. “I’m asking you, as my brother, not Santa Claus, to please, please, please refrain from your usual antics this year. According to the latest polls, more adults feel like Christmas is a burden than a joy and the number of children who don’t believe in me anymore is depressingly low.” Santa sighed, his giant belly threatening to pop the sash on his robe. He snagged a sugar cookie from a nearby tray. “Now more than ever, I really need you to behave.”

Behave, Damon thought. Not truly be a part, not genuinely help. Just behave, he thought bitterly. It had always been this way. As the firstborn boy, Santa had inherited the primo Christmas position within the Claus family—the CEO, if you will—and Damon had always been cast as the bad seed. He’d misbehaved as a child to garner attention, then had fallen permanently into the role.

And, truthfully, he rather liked it.

He strolled over to the Christmas tree, smoothly slipping The List beneath his coat en route, and pretended to admire the newest ornament, a small snow globe featuring another picuresque Christmas scene.

“What do you say, Damon? Can you do it? Can you be good?”

Sure, Damon thought. He could be good…at being bad.





1



DAMN, SHE’S STILL HOT. Riley Kinnard gazed out the window of the airport van that had brought him from Tucson International to the house where he’d spent the first eighteen years of his life. Across the street, his former high school sweetheart was building a Christmas display in the yard, apparently ready to continue the tradition now that she’d bought the house from her folks. If he’d hoped to sort out his feelings before facing Hayden Manchester, he was out of luck.

Heading into the house without saying hello would be rude, not to mention cowardly. She knew he was coming home and had probably heard the shuttle, even though she continued wielding the hammer. As he climbed down from the van and walked around to the rear where his suitcase was stowed, he thought of what his mother had said on the phone. It’s a shame we’ve booked this cruise right when you’ve scheduled a job interview. But if there’s a chance you’re moving back, it doesn’t matter so much. We’ll tell Hayden not to bother with the mail. If you should accidentally lock yourself out, remember that she has a key.Of course she did. The Manchesters and the Kinnards had exchanged front-door keys thirty-five years ago when the subdivision was new. As a kid, Riley had been famous for locking himself out. Not Hayden. She did everything right. Near as Riley had ever been able to tell, Hayden was perfect.

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