The Sin of Saint Nick by Sasha Leone

1

Ellie

Something bad always happens around Christmas, that’s the Ellie O’Hara curse.

On December 21st, just last year, my high school sweetheart, the supposed love of my life, dumped me into the fluffy snow like a mug of spoiled eggnog. The right-bastard. He barely even gave me a warning. The lease on our apartment was up and so was our relationship. Just like that, I was alone and homeless on the supposed happiest day of the coldest season.

The year before that, I was forced to drop out of university due to a mysterious illness. Doctors and specialists from all across the state poked and prodded me from Christmas Eve all the way up to the next Thanksgiving, and when they’d finally used up my body for all of their cheery experiments, I was told that it was anybody’s guess as to what was wrong with me—oh, but here’s a crushing medical bill to go along with that non-diagnosis. Add to that my student debt, which ended up being for a degree that became useless the second I wasn’t accepted back into my program—all because I had to miss a year to rack up my medical debt—and it made my following Christmas break-up all the more devastating.

Still, those past two Christmases pale in comparison to what I went through three years ago during this horrible season—but I don’t want to think about that right now. I can’t, not here, not while I try to schmooze and charm my way into the inner circle at my new job.

Of course, the first opportunity I get to really socialize with my peers just had to come during the annual company Christmas party. If I wasn’t already a nervous mess about making a good first impression, then the fact that it’s December 18th, and my Christmas surprise still hasn’t shown up yet, has me teetering dangerously on the edge of a breakdown.

“Hey, you’re the new copywriter, right?”

I don’t have time to answer before a big burly young man in a sweat-stained dress shirt collapses on the stool beside me. What’s left of his rum and coke splashes onto the bar counter and I get a big whiff of his boozy breath. “I bet Alan hired you, huh?” he smirks, snapping his fingers towards the busy bartender.

“Yeah,” I mumble, trying to swat away all of the dread and perk up enough to finally make an acquaintance. “What tipped you off?” That was the wrong question to ask, and I immediately know it; the answer is obvious to anyone with two brain cells to rub together.

Alan Graves didn’t hire me because I was the best copywriter available, he hired me because I meet the required ‘aesthetic’ for his female employees. One glance around this holiday decorated joint and it becomes clear that this is a company that values women for their looks, and men for anything but it.

Even beneath the shiny snowflake disco balls and pulsing multi-colored Christmas lights, it’s clear as day. Every woman here looks like she walked straight in out of a holiday-themed catalogue. Tall, slim, busty, hot. Shit, I should be flattered, but it’s hard to be flattered when the middle-aged greaseball who hired you only ever made eye contact with your tits.

Whatever, I’m not complaining—at least, not out loud. This job is a lifesaver, and if I have to put up with some overgrown frat boys ogling me just so that I can pay rent and keep myself off the streets this holiday season, then I’m all for it.

Plus, who knows, one of these lugs could actually turn out to be decent. I’ve been meaning to finally let loose a little since my break up, and if I hear the right words, then I might just let myself have some fun...

God, it’s been a long time since I had any fun.

“What tipped me off?” the young man beside me teases. He only looks to be a few years older than I am, but still, he’s markedly younger than the rest of the men in the room. A tuff of curly black hair frames a chubby face; puffy red cheeks glow like Rudolph’s nose under the dim barroom lighting; I can see the sweat stains in his white dress shirt; I can feel his little black eyes boring a hole through my red blouse.

It takes all of my will power not to openly sneer in disgust. In twenty years, this kid will be just another Alan Graves, but right now, he’s my peer and the only one who has bothered to come talk to me all night long.

A forced chuckle escapes my cherry-glazed lips. “I’m Ellie,” I offer.

“Zack,” he mumbles, biting his thin lower lip before finally ripping his gaze away from my breasts. “Barkeep!” he bellows. That command is quickly followed by a thunderous belch. This time, I can’t help but scrunch my nose up and flinch away.

Just my luck.

Zach slams a demanding fist on the bar top and I desperately look around for a way out. No one’s paying any attention to us, and every other girl in this conquered club is fighting their own little battle against some tipsy co-worker or another. I’m all alone. Trapped.

Hello, Christmas surprise.

“Four rum and cokes,” Zack orders when the barkeep finally makes his way over to us.

“I’m going to run to the lady’s room,” I quietly excuse myself, my gut slowly churning with every bad memory from the past three years.

I’m barely off of my stool when I feel a cold clammy grip close in around my wrist. The sweat on Zack’s sticky palm sends a shiver down my skin.

“First, drink.” I’m tugged roughly back towards my seat, the edge of which catches me painfully just above the knee.

“Fuck,” I yelp with a wince.

Zach doesn’t seem to notice my discomfort—or, if he does, it doesn’t seem to bother him in the slightest. His hand leaves my wrist and his pudgy fingers push a glass my way.

I watch in disbelief as he quickly downs his rum and coke, then immediately reaches for the next one.

What the hell am I getting myself into?

I haven’t been on the payroll at Virez Inc. for long enough to have learned anything useful. When I first got a call about coming in to do an interview, I searched the company up online, but details were sparse. At the time, that didn’t seem like a bad thing to me. I was being hired as a copywriter, after all—it was going to be part of my job to fill up their public presence—but it quickly became clear that this wasn’t an organization that wanted anything to do with the spotlight. It should have been obvious right from the get-go, their building downtown is huge, but I’d never even heard of them. Virez Inc. Hell, I’m almost two-weeks into the job and I’m still not entirely sure what they do.

Still, I have heard rumors.

After I signed my contract, I was briefed by the only woman at the company who didn’t look like a super model. Meredith Swan. The middle-aged red-head is your average secretary-type; big-rimmed glasses, stuffy-old dress, and the sass of someone who’s had to deal with disrespect for far too long.

Watch yourself, she warned me, because no one else around here is going to do it for you.

Other than those ominous words, I didn’t have much else to go on.

Sure, during my first week, I overheard some complaints here and there. When no guys were around, the tenured female employees would chat. Sometimes, I’d stumble upon them sharing their secrets...

If they didn’t pay so well, I’d be out of here...

Why can’t some of them at least be good looking?

Well, I hear the owner of the company is fine as hell...

Did you hear about Sarah?

How could they fire her but not him?

The talking always stopped when I came around. No one at Virez Inc. seems to be in the business of making friends, and that’s bully for me. I could really use a friend or two...

But Zack here definitely isn’t looking for a friend. There’s a creepy lust in his eyes that says he wants an easy fuck, and that’s all. This must be what Meredith was warning me about.

Well, I might be desperate, but I’m not easy. Nothing in my life has ever been easy...

“Are you going to drink or what?” the sweaty bull demands.

“I’m not thirsty,” I mutter, scanning the floor for a route of escape. Nothing. The crowded club is packed to the brim.

Suddenly, Zack’s clammy grip is back around my wrist. “Come on now, play along,” he threatens. “You won’t fit in if you don’t play along.”

I try to tug away, but Zack’s grasp is solid. My beating heart thumps along with the pounding techno beat blasting in the background as I struggle to think of what to do next. I don’t want to play along... but I also want to fit in so badly.

Before I can make up my mind, a searing chill crawls down my spine. Without warning, Zack and I are suddenly shrouded in a deep dark shadow.

A massive body has blocked out the dim lighting above the decorated bar. Goosebumps crawl over my skin as Zack’s damp fingers fall away. I look up to see a gigantic beast of a man towering over the both of us.

“Is this guy bothering you?” the voice is low and deep and so guttural that it makes the linings in my gut shake. The rumble comes from a pair of hard lips, centered on a sharp distinguished face. Shadows dance down the stranger’s chiseled cheekbones and speckled light glints off of the intense muscles flexing around his stone-crusher jaw. His steely blue-grey eyes pierce through the darkness and puncture my pounding chest, slowing my pulsing heart.

Who is this?

“I... uh... no... I mean...” My tongue is tied and my eyes are unlatched. Where do I look? What do I say?

The older stranger has a huge hand clasped around Zack’s shoulder. From the look on my co-worker’s face, the iron grip hurts like hell.

Still, for an eerie moment, neither of us dare say another word. Is that fear I see in Zach’s eyes?

Well, I hear the owner of the company is fine as hell...

That strand of gossip snags on a reed behind my forehead.

Could it be?

The hunky beast that looms over us is definitely dressed like he could be the boss of all bosses. A perfectly fitted burgundy suit hugs his athletic frame and an understated but classy silver watch glimmers just under his cufflink. He looks old enough to have worked his way up through the ranks... and he’s definitely fine as hell.

“I’m alright,” I croak, trying to snap myself back to earth. “It’s alright.”

Zach squirms under the powerful stranger’s vice grip. “I was just trying to buy her a drink,” he whines. The younger employee has hate in his eyes... hate that is directed entirely towards me.

Fuck. I’m going to be blamed for this. He’ll go around telling everyone that I’m a bitch and not a team player—so much for making friends.

“Get out of here,” the stranger growls. Whether that order is directed towards me or Zach is unclear, but neither of us are of the mind to stick around to find out. The second that Zach’s shoulder is freed from the mystery hunk’s grip, he scurries away, darting into the crowd and disappearing like a bad dream.

... But I have a feeling my troubles aren’t over yet—this isn’t some prince charming who has come to my rescue. There’s a dark brooding chill to the massive stranger that mixes in with the sizzling heat wafting from his broad chest. It all swirls around my swimming mind in a confusing whirlwind as he steps forward, blocking me off from following in Zach’s cowardly footsteps.

An intimidated gulp worms its way down my throat.

What do I do now?

What do I want to do?

As far as I can tell, my suddenly scattered brain is only giving me two options.

Run from this monster, or jump right into his arms.