Dr. Holly Green hasn't celebrated Christmas since age thirteen when her parents were killed in a car accident on Christmas Eve. An intense surgeon but a social wallflower, Holly successfully dodges the hospital holiday party every year, except this year when she meets Dr. Noel Shepherd, sexy new surgeon on the block who's determined to end her absenteeism.
The polar opposite of Holly, Noel revels in the Christmas spirit, sporting a penguin print necktie and Santa sticker on his beeper.
From the moment Holly bumps into Noel in the operating room, she can't deny her attraction to him. Noel likewise lights up around Holly.
When their relationship heats up over the holiday season, Noel purchases an evergreen tree that he and Holly could decorate. But his surprise quickly sours when Holly refuses to have anything to do with the tree. Has Noel crossed the line, catapulting Holly into a Christmas she isn't ready to celebrate?
Holly took a healthy bite of her burger.
“Glad to see you’re enjoying your dinner. It’s not Chez Jacques, but Callahan’s has the best burgers in New England. And I’ve downed a lot of hamburgers in my days.” Noel arched his brow. “I guess as a surgeon, I shouldn’t admit that.”
She patted her lips with a paper napkin. “I’ll forgive you this one time.”
Noel stuffed a French fry in his mouth. He chewed it with happy vigor and swallowed. “After tonight, I’m switching to salads.”
“It’s the holidays, Noel.” She waggled her finger at him. “And who brought me cookies?”
“Okay. After the holidays, I’ll make it my New Year’s resolution.” Noel chomped on his deluxe burger. After swallowing, he leaned across the booth’s table toward Holly. “So, what resolutions are you going to make?”
She hesitated. “I don’t believe in resolutions.”
“I know you’re not keen on Christmas, but New Year’s too?”
Holly bit into a French fry. “Yep.”
Noel propped his elbow onto the table and plunked his chin into his palm. “That’s tragic. Who am I going to kiss at midnight?”
She grinned and shrugged.
He leaned closer. “There’s always mistletoe. You better be careful where you step.”
“I’ll be safe. I’ll be at the hospital on call.”
Noel stole one of her fries and waved it in front of her. “I wouldn’t count on that because I’ll be on call also.” He bit into the fry.
Holly plucked a fry from his plate. “Then I’ll have to be extra careful.” She snapped the potato slice in two, eating one half and feeding the other half to him.
“Boy, it’s going to be tough giving up fries.”
The door to Callahan’s Pub squeaked open ushering a burst of winter air. The pub buzzed with the boisterous chatter of the gaggle of Granite State Medical Center staff. Holly peered from the booth’s edge. Nurses and doctors she knew hugged and high-fived one another.
“Hey, look. There’s Noel and…uh Holly Green?” The gossipy nurse from the locker room yelled above the crowd.
Holly sank in her seat. Oh, no. Not tonight.
The nurse tottered over to them. Every clop of her high-heeled boots jabbed at Holly, but she smiled over gritted teeth as the nurse leaned over and hugged Noel. Ashley stood behind her fellow nurse and shrugged.
Noel stiffened at her dramatic hug. “Hi. Good to see you.”
She whipped around to face Holly. “Dr. Green. What a surprise? I’ve never seen you here at Callahan’s.”
“Noel and I were just grabbing a quick dinner before going off for the rest of the evening.”
The nurse tilted her shoulders towards Noel. “Oh, you have to stay. The gang’s all here. I’m so happy you took us up on the invite to Callahan’s. You’ll have a great time.”
Noel reached for Holly’s hand. “I am having a great time, but we already have plans for the evening.”
“Well okay.” She shot her finger at him. “But come back again…soon.”
Ashley tugged at her friend’s sweater sleeve. “Let’s go.” She smiled at Holly. “It is nice seeing you. I hope you and Noel will come back.”
“Thanks, Ashley. And I’m glad your brother will be home for Christmas.”
“Me too.” She waved to Holly and Noel and then dragged her friend away.
Noel squeezed her hands. “Sorry about that.”
Holly shook her head. “Don’t be. I avoided coming to Callahan’s, and I did have my reservations, but I’m actually thankful you’ve brought me here. The burgers are indeed the best.”
The waitress cleared their plates. Both passing on dessert, Noel paid the bill. He stood up and rounded the table. Grabbing Holly’s hand, he slid her across the wooden bench seat, grinning the whole time.
Holly laughed. “You have me skating before I hit the ice.”
Noel pulled Holly to her feet and yanked her to his chest, wrapping his arms around her, his embrace firm but not restraining. Noel pressed his lips to hers. Heat shot from her lips to her toes, enough to keep her toasty on the ice the rest of the night.
When they eased apart, patrons pounded their fists on the pub’s bar counter and cheered, “Mistletoe! Mistletoe! Mistletoe!”
Noel pulled Holly past the Callahan’s Christmas tree and halted her beneath the doorway’s mistletoe.
“Not so safe now, are you?” He teased.
Holly tilted her head back. The tree’s twinkling lights flickering behind Noel, her breathing rose to a crescendo, waiting for his kiss. And at this moment, she didn’t care whose eyes were upon them. The warmth of his breath caressed her cheeks as he leaned towards her, closer, and closer, her heart beating faster in tandem to the blinking Christmas lights. He rested his mouth upon hers and then pulled her in closer. She pressed harder galvanized by the revelry of the crowd, their pounding whirring in her ears.
“Longer. Longer. Longer,” they yelled.
They froze in their embrace, her arms swaddled about his broad shoulders, and his palms cupping her hips. His neck pulsed beneath her fingertips. Not since her parents had she felt that same soft comfort.
Holly blinked and widened her eyes when they parted. Adrenalin rushed through her. Grabbing his hand, she yanked him through the door of Callahan’s and into the snow covered parking lot.
“Anxious, aren’t we?”
She twirled around, tasting every snowflake on her tongue, before clutching the car door handle. She jerked it. Pulled on it again, thinking her fingers had not gotten an adequate purchase. Nothing.
Noel snickered and pressed the remote on his key ring. After two beeps and a flash of headlights, Holly swung the car door open and bounced into the seat.
Noel got into the car, buckled his seat belt, and slid the key into the ignition. He glanced at Holly.
She clicked her seatbelt closed and gave him a grin that tapped her cheekbones. “I’m going to skate circles around you!”
“Hmm.” He smiled. “Is that a challenge?”
“Yes, it is Dr. Shepherd.”
He pointed at her. “I accept, Dr. Green.”
Giddy from dinner and ooh, those two kisses, she hadn’t given thought to where they’d whirl about on the ice until Noel pulled up at Putney’s Pond, parking on the side of the road in full view of frolicking skaters. Her smile melted. Lips pressed tight, she gazed at a mother pulling her little girl up from the ice, dusting off her bottom, and then hugging her. They skated away, mitten to mitten.
Panic whirred in Holly’s chest. “Noel, I can’t.”
She turned to face him but he wasn’t there. The tap on her window made her jerk back into the seat.
Noel waved to her and held up her mother’s skates. “Come on. Give me everything you’ve got, Green!”
She couldn’t disappoint him. He had planned such a wonderful evening for them. Why ruin it? Holly took a deep breath and opened her door. Noel grasped her hand, and mitten-to-mitten, he pulled her to him and kissed her. With his skates slung over one of his shoulders and Holly’s skates over the other, they crunched over the snow holding hands all the way to the red wooden shed, the same place her mother would sit her down on a bench and lace up her skates before putting hers on.
The night before Christmas Eve and kids on holiday recess from school, the rural rink was packed with families, and teenagers snaking around them. Holly sat on a bench next to Noel who was furiously lacing up his skates.
“I’m going to beat you to the ice,” he teased.
She hesitated but then grabbed her skates. “No you’re not!”
Holly and Noel knotted their skates in synchrony and popped up from the bench at the same time.
“Go,” Holly yelled.
They “duck walked” from the shed to the ice, the silver blades of their skates chopping into the snow and glided onto the frozen pond. Noel gripped Holly’s hand and whipped her ahead of him. She whipped him around her. They split from one another and half raced around the rink, careful of others stumbling about. After three laps, she raised her arms in victory.
“I win,” she shouted with glee.
Noel skated up to her, shearing a small fountain of ice with his hockey stop.
“Here’s your consolation prize.” She glided towards him, performing a perfect T-stop in front of him, and kissed him.
He smiled. “I like second place.”
Holly skated away from him. “Watch this. I hope I can still do it.”
She veered to her right, her right foot catching an outside edge and then an inside one. Hugging her arms to her chest, she spun, spinning faster and faster the tighter she held them in, lost in a blissful blur, her mother whispering in her ear, “Spin. Spin. Spin. My darling.”
Stabbing the ice with her toe pick, she stopped and held out her arms. “Ta da!”
Noel clapped. “Bravo! Bravo!”
Holly did it. She’d made her mother proud.
Their racing competition completed, Holly and Noel skated holding hands for a few more laps around the rink. An older couple passed them.
“That’s so sweet,” Holly cooed.
“I think it’s sad.”
She cocked her head up towards him, her mouth open. “Why would you think that?”
“Because they passed us,” he said, curtly nodding. “We can’t have that.” He tugged her hand. “Come on.”
They picked up pace and snuck by the couple. Noel spun around and skated backwards while holding both her hands. She pulled one hand away and smacked him on his shoulder. “You are so bad.”
“Yes, I’m absolutely wicked.” He peeled off her mitten and kissed her hand, his warm breath wafting in clouds above them.
Her fingers tingled, cradled in his touch.
“I’m sorry. Your hand must be cold.” He blew on her fingers and then slipped her mitten back onto her hand.
Her stomach fluttered and gooseflesh popped onto her skin beneath her red sweater, not the frigid kind, but the prickly, tiny bumps that nudge every hair on your neck to exhilarating attention.
“Noel, You’ve totally surprised me tonight. I can’t remember the last time I’ve…”
He hugged her and whispered in her ear, “Let go?”
“Yes,” she whispered back.
He pulled her off the rink. “Let’s get these skates off. The finale of surprises is yet to come.”
“Where to now?”