Holidays in Manhattan

by

Jennifer Gracen

They didn’t believe in holiday magic… until it happens to them.

Anna McKinnon is a free spirit. As a bartender in New York City, she answers to no one, keeps what she calls “vampire hours” – and likes it that way. She secretly wishes to find real love, the forever kind her brothers have all found. But love has not only eluded her, it’s burned her badly. Keeping things light is how Anna copes.

David Beren is a high-powered, intense investment banker in the heart of Manhattan. His 80-hour work weeks took over his life long ago, but now, at 35, he’s ready for something more. But what? And then he meets Anna. She’s unexpected – full of light, color, and laughter. Anna knocks him off his game and his feet, and he’s never been happier.

Can total opposites – a feisty, bold girl from Ireland and a quiet, straight-laced Jewish guy from New Jersey – find love at the holidays? With the double whammy of a Hanukkah miracle and some Christmas magic, they just might.

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Anna was going to be late. But really, it wasn’t totally her fault; she was notoriously not a morning person and everyone knew that, she’d woken up late to begin with, and she couldn’t walk by the bakery window when those gorgeous cupcakes were practically shouting at her. The miniature red, orange, and yellow sugary leaves on top were so inviting, she couldn’t squelch the urge to get two of them for her nieces. It was a very good excuse for being a few minutes late to brunch. Especially when she so rarely did a Sunday brunch.

After working until two A.M. the night before, as she often did, Sundays were for being lazy, running a few errands, and laundry. Since she worked evening and night shifts at her brother’s bar, she rarely saw the sun before noon in general. But she’d been summoned by her sister-in-law, who’d become a cherished friend besides a member of the McKinnon family, and Anna hated to deny Cassandra anything.

Three days ago, Anna had turned thirty-one. Cass had insisted on a family get-together to celebrate her birthday. Most of the tremendous McKinnon family was back in Ireland, where Anna and Sean had been born and raised. Here in New York City, Sean, Cassandra, and their daughters were the only family Anna had around. She cherished them all, but was unabashedly in love with her nieces. Sweet Rose was five, and Ella, only twenty-one months old, was already a firecracker.

Since Anna worked nights, dinner for her birthday hadn’t been an option. So, now, a birthday brunch for Anna was happening… whether she liked it or not.

Yawning as she adjusted her wide sunglasses, Anna squinted against the glare of the sun before turning to glance through the bakery window. Almost empty at noon on a Sunday, there was only one other person in line, so she wouldn’t have to wait long—and therefore wouldn’t be too late to brunch. Always one to fly with her impulses, she entered the bakery.

A bell tinkled over the door as Anna pushed through it, and immediately the sweet smell of sugar bombarded her senses. She’d never been in this small bakery before, though she’d passed it many times. She passed this place every time she walked across town to get to Sean and Cassandra’s apartment. They’d moved to a small but charming place in the West Village three years before, and Anna adored their neighborhood. It had character, it had style… not unlike where Anna lived in the East Village, but it was just a different vibe. More families lived in the West Village, so it was a good place to raise the girls. It was also closer than they’d been to NYU, where Cassandra worked as an English Lit professor. Anna visited them often. It was all too easy to feel isolated in the huge city; along with a few friends, having some family there kept her from feeling adrift.

As Anna waited, she smiled as she thought of her nieces. Those two little girls would squeal with delight when they saw the pretty cupcakes. She’d do anything for them. They owned her heart. She hoped to have kids of her own one day, but since her dating life was a joke, she was more than happy to glom onto her brother’s kids. Anna had always been a free spirit, as well as a bartender who worked nights, and had high standards—all of which made real dating difficult. Hookups were easy if that were all she wanted, but it wasn’t. She’d seen true love up close and wanted it for herself one day. But even being in one of the biggest cities on the planet, it was hard to meet people.

Sean and Cassandra had the real thing. After years together, the heated way they still looked at each other sometimes was enough to set off fire alarms. A few years ago, her other brother, Gavin, had come to visit her in New York and fallen head over heels for Toni, one of her friends. They were so in love that Toni had left her life on Long Island to start a new one with Gavin over in Dublin.

Though she’d never admitted it to anyone out loud, Anna wanted that. That knock-you-on-your-ass kind of love, the passion and the devotion, the feeling of finding your kindred spirit. Her schedule was crazy, sure, but being a bartender in midtown Manhattan had its perks. She met plenty of men. Just none that knocked her off her axis.

She’d been in love before, but… she rolled her eyes at herself just thinking about those failed relationships. Maybe she’d be an auntie for life.

“Can I help you?” The voice of the woman behind the counter broke into her thoughts, jarring her back to the present as the customer in front of Anna turned to leave with her box of goodies.

“Yes, thanks,” Anna said, taking off her sunglasses. “Those gorgeous cupcakes in the window—” She reached up and back to point to them and connected hard with flesh.

“Ooof!” came a deep voice from behind her.

Gasping, Anna whirled around in horror. The man standing behind her held his face as he glared down at her. “Oh sweet Jesus,” she stammered. “I punched you in the face, didn’t I?”

“Mm hmm,” he ground out.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t even know you were there!”

“Yeah, I got that.”

She quickly took in his dignified appearance: navy suit, crisp white shirt, striped tie, his head full of wavy dark hair, and the way his eyes narrowed as they raked over her. Incredible eyes, the color of expensive whiskey, but sharp and clearly annoyed. She tried to joke, “I’m not usually in the habit of clocking people.”

“I’d hope not.” His words were muffled behind his hand, but his clipped tone was unmistakable.

No sense of humor, she thought. Pity. “I really am sorry. Are you all right?”

“I’ll live,” he muttered, slowly pulling his hand away from his face. A drop of blood welled on his full bottom lip.

“Ah Christ, look what I did.” Anna turned back to the woman behind the counter, who was watching them with wide eyes. “D’ya have a napkin, love? He needs one.”

“Of course!” The woman grabbed a few and handed them to Anna, who turned to try to dab at his mouth.

He grabbed her wrist with surprising speed. “I can do that.”

A lance of embarrassment pierced through her and she shook off his hand. “I was just trying to help,” she said.

He blinked, then sighed. “I know. Sorry.” He took a napkin from her fingers and held it to his lip. “I’m fine. Go on, place your order. I have a meeting I have to get to.”

“On a Sunday?” Anna couldn’t help but ask.

“Yes.” He stared at her, but didn’t offer more.

She held his intense gaze for a long beat. His eyes were truly stunning, a golden hazel fringed with black lashes, in the middle of an appealing face. A strong jaw, cleanly shaven. His thick hair was such a dark brown it was almost black, the waves cut short and neat. A lawyer, she figured, or some kind of finance guy. Whatever. Not her type, and not her concern. He said he was fine, and he wasn’t being friendly. She turned back to the woman behind the counter and asked for two of the cupcakes she’d seen in the window.

While she waited, she pushed her hair over her shoulder, leaned a hip against the counter, and shot a glance back at the man she’d assailed. She couldn’t help herself. Damn, he was cute. “You okay?”

“Fine.” He pulled the napkin away and his tongue flicked out to touch his lip. Something in her belly pinged low. He had a gorgeous mouth, with full sensual lips. Delicious lips, really.

She caught how his whiskey-colored eyes quickly ran over her, but his expression didn’t change a bit. Not a flicker of anything. She supposed he wasn’t impressed by what he saw. Suits didn’t go for women like her. She knew that all too well.

She turned her back on him to stare at the wall of assorted cookies.

As soon as her purchase was paid for, she grabbed the box and brushed by him, not bothering to say anything else. He obviously felt nothing but scorn toward her, and she’d apologized more than once, so what was the point? She pushed through the door and walked out into the brisk air.

She’d only gotten about twenty feet up the block when she heard someone shouting behind her, “Hey! Blondie with the colors! Wait!”

Realizing someone was yelling at her—her blonde hair had streaks of orange and black through it, the colors she’d picked for October—she turned around to see the guy she’d hit in the bakery, jogging to her. When he reached her, he held out an ATM card and said, “You left this there.”

Anna glanced down and plucked it from his long fingers. Sure enough, it was hers. “Christ,” she hissed, embarrassed in front of this man for the second time in only a few minutes. Her cheeks burned a bit as she admitted, “I was in such a hurry to get away from you, I didn’t even realize…”

“I figured as much,” he said. He swiped a hand through his hair, tousling the waves. “I’m sorry for being such a dick back there. You punched me, and it hurt, and I was in a pissy mood to begin with because I don’t want to have to go to a meeting on a Sunday.” The corner of his full mouth ticked up the slightest bit. She figured that was this stiff’s attempt at a smile.

He was wound up tight, buttoned up and reserved. The guy probably needed a strong drink. Or a good time. She wondered when was the last time he’d had either one. “Well. I appreciate your chasing me down to give me this.” She waved her bank card at him, then reached into her messenger bag for her wallet and tucked it inside. “And I appreciate your apology too. I really didn’t mean to—”

When she looked back up at him, what she spotted just beyond him made her eyes go wide and her breath stick in her chest. “Damn,” she whispered. Ethan, her ex who’d broken her heart a year and a half ago, was walking up the street. The lying bastard was only yards away. Too late to make a smooth escape. Panic made her heart flutter before it started to race. She licked her suddenly dry lips.

“You okay?” the suit asked, his thick brows furrowing as he looked at her.

“Um. No. Yes. Shit.” Struck with an idea, she grabbed his wrist. “Can you do me a huge favor?” she whispered hotly.

Looking down at her like she was insane, he said with ambivalence, “Uh… depends what it is?”

“My name is Anna,” she said, shifting the box of cupcakes to her left hand. “Just work with me.” Her right arm hooked around his neck, she pressed herself against his body, and brought his mouth down to crash onto hers.

End of Excerpt