Title: The Naughty List
Author: L. A. Kelley
Genre: Paranormal Romance
This is not a typical Yuletide tale. Murder, mystical artifacts, an invisible demon with anger management issues, and an overbearing cupid—not what Rosalie Thatcher wished for on her Christmas list. The holidays had always been a magical time for Rosalie, but not this year. Her new manager at Penrose’s Department Store is determined to make this season the most profitable in the store’s history, even if it sucks the life out of every employee. Introducing arbitrary rules and stealing the affections of the cute temp Santa were bad enough, but forcing Rosalie into the stupid elf hat was the worst. The worst, that is, until she meets a real E.L.F. (Elemental Life Form) named David and gets lassoed into a desperate hunt for the stolen Naughty and Nice List. Now all Rosalie and David must do is dodge a murderous invisible demon and recover the missing artifact before hellhounds track them down. The couple race against time for without the magical guidance of the Naughty and Nice List, the world will tumble toward eternal chaos. The Naughty List is an updated version of the Santa legend. Spiked with humor, action, and romance, the story will banish the bah humbug from anyone’s holiday spirit.
As the holiday season got underway the crowds of shoppers remained steady, although smaller than average. More importantly, after Stephanie slashed staff to the bare bone, the layoffs ceased. Rosalie’s spirits should have lifted, but the uneasy feeling that developed after watching the mother with the stroller stayed. She couldn’t put her finger on the cause, but her mood was off.
The undefined malaise infected every other employee in the store along with the customers. Tension increased. Smiles were less open. Responses became a trifle curt. She noticed the edginess on the street, too. Please and thank you dropped out of conversations. The strain showed on people’s faces. Every night newscasters reported another assault caused by a fly-off-the-handle remark. Where was all the holiday spirit? Hell, where was all the common civility? It was as if everybody in the world had lost the little voice in their head that told them to shut up and behave. Everyone except Ross, she noted to Marissa when they caught a break together.
“One of the necessities of being Santa,” her friend chuckled. “Jolly is a job requirement.”
“Easy for Ross unless some kid pees on him.”
“Ross wouldn’t care. I swear he lives for children.”
“Right about that.” Rosalie took a bite of her granola bar. She enjoyed her chance to sit and chat. Marissa was forced to pull double duty as assistant manager along with absorbing all of Stephanie’s old responsibilities. Rosalie hardly saw her friend anymore. “I meant to ask, how is the tracking system coming along?” Marissa’s pet project before Stephanie took over was to develop a new method to control inventory loss.
Her face lit up. “Really well—better than that, actually. I only ran a few tests, but I think the system will be a great checks and balances method if corporate signs off. Stephanie will brief them at the next board meeting.”
Rosalie snorted in disgust. “You know she’ll take credit for the idea.”
“Frankly, I don’t care. Penrose’s will save lots of money. No one else’s position will be cut. Maybe we can hire back the laid-off staff.”
“You’re not worried about your job, are you? Penrose’s would fall apart without you. Seriously, you run the place. Stephanie doesn’t know anything.”
“It’s not that.” A shadow crossed her face.
Rosalie reached over and squeezed her hand.
“Stephanie switched us to a cheaper health plan. His new medicine is expensive and not covered. Money is tight.”
“Things will get better,” Rosalie assured her with forced optimism. But inside she thought, they sure can’t get much worse.
At 2 a.m. Penrose’s parking lot was deserted except for one lone individual studying the building. David had crisscrossed the neighborhood for hours, pausing every now and then to get his bearings. The tenuous connection always brought him right back here. After an arduous hunt, he was sure. The Book was inside. He stifled a feeling of exultation. Until he grasped The Book in his hands again, any celebration was premature.
David pressed his fingertips lightly on the stone façade. How the hell did The Book get to a department store in Florida? He pushed the question aside. He could stand out here all night and still not come up with a logical answer. Nothing mattered as long as The Book returned to the vault. David fought the temptation to dash-away inside the building. A blind dash-away to someplace he’s never been before could be disastrous without knowing the exact thickness of the wall and what was on the other side.
He made a quick decision. Once the door opened in the morning, he would reconnoiter to get a better feel for the place. The pull from The Book was tenuous, but maybe with luck he’d stumble upon the hiding place right away. If the location wasn’t obvious, he’d do a thorough search after the store closed. Security measures were a given. He dismissed the exterior door alarms. They posed no problem for someone with his teleporting abilities, but the interior might have cameras on at night. First thing tomorrow he’d track down the security office. Once certain of the location within the building, he could dash-away in at night unnoticed, shut down any electronic devices, and have the whole place to himself.
With a plan, David’s spirits lifted. The only sticking point was the size of the building. He glanced upward. Worry furrowed his brow. Four stories were a lot of square footage to cover. He tried again to get a better sense of The Book’s location, but still only generated a hazy awareness the artifact was somewhere inside. His inability to zero-in nagged at him, but he could do nothing else until tomorrow.
David zipped up his jacket and jammed his hands into the pockets. Northwest Florida was chilly in autumn after the sun went down. He needed to find a place to catch a few hours sleep. A hotel was out. Hellhounds were on his trail, no point in making the hunt too easy. For a moment, an image of his parents crossed his mind. They must be worried sick. David shoved aside his guilt. Any contact for now was out of the question. No way would he drag them into his mess. Earlier that day he’d come across a house on the next block with a For Sale sign in the yard. A quick peek in the window showed a dwelling devoid of furniture and convinced him the previous owner had left. The location would do nicely for a temporary hideout.
David concentrated, holding a picture of the house in his mind, and then cast out a mental line to touch the living room. Within a moment, he forged a path clear enough to dash-away. The pressure increased, squeezing his chest. He let go, dragged into darkness. Nothing on the empty pavement remained to mark where the determined young man had stood.
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What I love most about the holiday season:
Lighting the yule log in the living room, although I don’t have a fireplace. I consider it the official start of the yuletide when the firetruck roars down the street, sirens screaming. The neighbors are less than thrilled. They have no holiday spirit.
Why is your featured book a must-read to get you in the holiday mood?
The idea for The Naughty List came to me one Christmas in Barnes and Noble. I noticed all the cashiers and stock clerks wore Santa hats. At the register I asked the girl if the managers had to wear them, too. She rolled her eyes, leaned over, and whispered to me, “Of course not. It was their idea.” Aha! The idea of a hardworking customer service clerk forced to put up with stupid management decisions came to me. I know a lot of people who work retail and how tough it is during the holidays.
I’m a fantasy writer so I had to have a little Christmas magic. The image of a saintly roly-poly Santa and his workshop full of tiny elves held no appeal, so I decided to update the story. Santa is always associated with The Naughty and Nice List so I threw that in the mix. I gave Santa a son to add a romantic interest for Rosalie. I thought it would be fun to have other mythological beings since they are never associated with Christmas. The odd juxtaposition of having demons, hellhounds , and the rest in a yuletide tale gave me an opportunity to add both humor and excitement. (The idea of Santa’s son having a friend who was a hellhound tickled me no end.)
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I’m the author of fifteen fantasy and science fiction adventures. I write with humor and a little romance because life is dull without them. I don’t write either naughty bits or gore so your mama would approve, but do add a touch of cheeky sass so maybe she wouldn’t. The South is home; a place where the heat and humidity have driven everyone slightly mad. In my spare time I call in Bigfoot sightings to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. They are heartily sick of hearing from me.
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