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Authors: Marni Bates

Decked with holly

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Also by Marni BatesAWKWARD   Published by Kensington Publishing CorporationDECKED WITH HOLLYMarni BatesKENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.www.kensingtonbooks.comAll copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.Table of ContentsAlso by Marni BatesTitle PageDedicationAcknowledgementsChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20Chapter 21Chapter 22Chapter 23Chapter 24Chapter 25Chapter 26Chapter 27Chapter 28Chapter 29Chapter 30Chapter 31Chapter 32Chapter 33Chapter 34Chapter 35Chapter 36Chapter 37FOOD FOR THOUGHTAWKWARD?Copyright PageThis book is dedicated to my loyal readership.You're all rock stars, in my book!I owe a lot of peoplebig-timefor makingDecked with Hollypossible. Specifically, my amazing editor, Megan Records, and the talented team of people at Kensington-Teen—thank you! This book has been an absolute pleasure for me, and I'm so grateful for both the opportunity to write it and for your tireless support behind it.My incredible agent, Laurie McLean, deserves a medal for laughing at my jokes, putting up with my pranks, and helping me realize my dreams. I'm so fortunate to be navigating the perilous waters of publishing with her by my side!Thank you, Mom, for loving both me and this book so freaking much. Not necessarily in that order. You're the best!Thank you, Dena Bates, for taking me on so many incredible adventures by land, sea, and air. I love you, Grmma!Julie and Abigail Dock—ducklings are still cuter than bunnies. But you ladies tend to be right about everything else. I love you both!Pam van Hylckama, Shanyn Day, Julie Kagawa, Laura Fraley, Brigid Kemmerer, Erica O'Rourke, Nina Berry, Jenn Rush, Emily Guasco, Diana Rosengard, Wes Parker, Olivia Kelly, Jennifer Carolyn—a special thank you for using your immense powers for good . . . at least when directed toward me!And last but not least, I'd like to send out a super-sized hug to the writing community that has welcomed me with such warmth. Authors. Writers. Dreamers. Bloggers. Reviewers. Readers. Tweeps. Friends. All of you have filled my life with laughter and joy. Thank you!Chapter 1Holly Ilooked like a skank.I tugged down the green bit of monstrosity wrapped tightly around my waist so that it brushed mid-thigh and tried to remember why I put up with Jennifer Lawley as my best friend. This time she had gone too far.“I can't do this!”It wasn't the first time I had tried to mutiny, but given that I was nowwearingthe aforementioned green bit of monstrosity instead of staring at it on a hanger, I guess she was justified in believing that I'd back down.But never again.She plumped up her already cherry-red lips and rolled her eyes at me in the mirror.“Come on, Holly. It's not so bad.”“Not so bad!” I sputtered. “We look like mutants! Worse than that! We look like slutty mutants whose clothing went through a wood chipper!”“We look like Santa's helpers. Get into the spirit of things, already. 'Tis the season, you know!”Right, because nothing perks up a girl more than hearing Christmas carols for hours on end while being forced to ask little children if they've been naughty or nice lately. And while I hadn't actually asked any kids about their naughty-to-nice ratio, it was only because I had yet to join the crowds in the Westside Pavilion and serve my time as “Santa's little helper.” I still knew what was coming. Crying babies and overprotective parents who snapped orders and bitched into their cell phones about their stupid yearly Christmas cards. And given the very short nature of our “Santa's little helpers” skirts, I had a feeling that Jen and I would be on the receiving end of more than a few crude suggestions about how we could help certain boys fully enjoy their Christmas season.Let me tell you: You have to be desperate to agree to become an elf in Los Angeles. Or anywhere else, for that matter.But that's exactly what I was: desperate. Maybe if I had an allowance, or a regular source of income, I wouldn't have been taking a Christmas cruise to the Mexican Riviera with my grandpa and (wince) my cousins with absolutely nothing appropriate to wear. But my grandpa believes I need to know the true value of money, and I know it, all right . . . it's the difference between being mocked and being accepted.Under normal circumstances, Jen would tell me how lucky I am to have a grandpa who wants to celebrate his seventy-fifth birthday in paradise. She would be envious of me for trading in smoggy Los Angeles for sunny beaches and fruity drinks. Under normal circumstances, I would be thrilled to go myself . . . if it weren't for my cousins. To be fair, Andrew and Jacob are okay. I mean, they're teenage boys who would be more than a little interested in noting the length of Jen's short skirt. But they're relatively harmless.Allison and Claire, on the other hand, are like the Olsen twins on bitch steroids.I don't think I'm exaggerating here.Allison and Claire are an amalgamation of all the twenty-first-century social problems: They are self-entitled, materialistic jerks who enjoy online bullying, teasing, and general unpleasantness as hobbies. They also have a talent for detecting every crack in someone's self-esteem, which they then hammer away at until the tormented person breaks into a million shattered pieces.And I'm lucky enough to share a gene pool with them.Which is why I know from firsthand experience that if I show up for the cruise wearing the same jeans I've had for the last two years, they'll start calling me Annie again. As in Little Orphan Annie. Because ever since my parents died in a car accident that's exactly what I've been—an orphan.Real nice, right?But it's not all bad. I mean, it's not like I ever knew my parents in any meaningful way. Apparently, I was a fussy baby, so at the nine-month mark they asked my grandpa to watch me for a weekend while they took a much needed mini-break.And when my exhausted dad fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a tree, what started as a two-day visit turned into a permanent living situation.My grandpa was great about the whole thing. There were never any parental duties that he skipped out on. He supported me when I became a Girl Scout, helped me sell boxes of cookies, and then hugged me tightly when I told him that none of the other girls liked me. He told me they just didn't appreciate my chutzpah the way he did. And even though he went to synagogue every week, he never pressured me to have a Bat Mitzvah or go by Rachel, my Jewish-sounding middle name. Grandpa understood that after a brutal ten hours of labor on Christmas Day, his Jewish daughter and her Catholic-raised husband thought the prickly name Holly was appropriate.If only they could see me now—dressed up like a tarty elf.I tugged down my skirt once again.“I mean it,” I told Jen. “You said I only had to try on the costume and then I could back out. Well, I tried it on. I look like a holiday hooker. Can we go now? I need to start handing copies of my résumé out to department stores.”Jen tugged her own costume down, only she was adjusting the low-dipping green shirt so that it flashed a cheery bit of red bra under the cleavage.“Like you have a résumé!”She had a point.“Then clearly we need to get out of here so that I can make one up andthenI can start handing it out to department stores.”“The economy, as always, sucks. No one is hiring, Holly. It's a Christmas miracle that we found this job as it is. Now we are going to go out there and spread some holiday cheer!”I didn't know how she could manage to say that last bit with a straight face.“A Christmas miracle that has me sluttified and asking people how ‘naughty' they've been?” I squawked. “If we were outside we could get arrested for this!”“It's not indecent exposure on an elf.” She flicked back the red streak in her bangs. “Look, there arekidsout there and they expect us to make them happy. Are you really going to disappoint thechildren?”Jen knew I had a soft spot for kids, and if it got me out of the dressing room and into the mall where she could try out her flirting technique in her green elf skirt, then she was going to play theyou can't disappoint the childrencard for all it was worth.“Fine,” I grumbled, “but you—”“Owe you big time,” she finished for me. “Yeah, Holly, I know. Whatever. Now let's boldly go where many elves have gone before.”“Fine. Let's just get this thing over with then.”Jen grabbed my arm and thrust me out the door of the employee bathroom like she didn't trust me to actually leave.She knew me way too well.The outside world was an absolute madhouse. Shoppers in December should be forced to take a sedative before trying to purchase presents for loved ones. One particularly frazzled mother was yelling at her daughter, “No, I'm not going to buy you any plastic ponies, Krystal! And if I hear one more word about them, Christmas will be canceled!”Jen and I were shoved and jostled by strangers who madly searched for just the right gift that says, “I love and appreciate you. Also, I'm sorry about that stupid thing I did last week. Forgive me?” With the pressure to be thoughtful, creative, generous, and sweet all tied into a present, it was a wonder that more people didn't off themselves during the holiday season. It's not so much that I reallymindedChristmas. . . just the way it eclipsed my birthday. My grandpa did his best, but I never had a real party since no parents wanted to schlep their kids around the day after Christmas when they could gaze, bleary eyed, at the fake plastic tree sitting in the living room. But when Grandpa told me his plans for this year—that in celebration of his mid-December birthday we were spending the holidays on a family cruise with my aunt and her picture-perfect nuclear family—I really wanted to ask if I could stay with Jen in LA instead.Hence the need for new clothes and the job that forced me to spread holiday cheer. And act jolly. And all that other nonsense.So I plastered a big ol' smile on my face as Jen and I walked up to the special area where Santa was evidently enjoying the last of his lunch break with a cup of eggnog in his hand.It wasn't until we were right next to St. Nick that we realized eggnog wasn't the main ingredient in his drink.Apparently, I wasn't the only one having trouble getting into the holiday spirit.Although he seemed to become significantly more chipper when he spotted Jen and me in our outfits. “C'mere!” he suggested. “Sit on Santa's lap!”Then he cackled as if he had said something incredibly clever instead of creepily attempting to hit on a pair of high school girls.Jen clutched my hideous green tunic sleeve. “Oh, my God!” she breathed in horror. “Not Santa!”Jen was one of those kids who resolutely believed that the big man came down her chimney all through elementary school. She also wanted to give other children that some feeling of magic each year. I didn't care. I mean, Ilikekids, but it's not like they aren'teventuallygoing to figure out that they sat on some weird guy's lap every year.“Yep. It looks like good St. Nick has been a bit on the naughty side this year.”Santa lolled back in his huge chair, apparently oblivious to our whispered conversation.“Should we report him?” I asked Jen. “Or better yet, can we leave now? The man reeks and if he spews we don't want to be the ones cleaning it up.”I might have been hired to prance around in this ridiculous outfit, but no one said anything about vomit duties. I checked.“Holly!” Jen practically growled my name. “We don't have time to search for someone! We can't let a pervy Santa near these kids! We have todosomething now!”“Okay. I'm not disagreeing with you, Jen. I'm just not sure how you expect us to fix it.”Santa chose that moment to ask me blearily, “So tell me, have you beennaughtythis year?”Another happy round of cackles followed that witticism.“Just stay here and try to cover for me.” Jen marched over to the long line of kids who had been tugging on their parents' sleeves and asking if it was time yet. “Um, I'm sorry, folks, but Santa just got an urgent message from his toy shop, so he needs to head for the North Pole straight away. But he's really sorry for the inconvenience and he wishes you all aMerr-y Christmas!”“But he's sitting right there!” an indignant mother snapped. “We've been waiting in this stupid line for over two hours and my son is going to see Santa!”And that's when all hell broke loose.The disgruntled parents, children in tow, charged past Jen and headed straight for the highly inebriated Santa, who was so smashed he didn't recognize the danger in a stampede of determined parents.“Holly!” Jen yelled. So I did the only thing I could think of—I stood right in front of pervy Santa and waved my arms in the universal signal forplease don't crush me! Please!For a brief moment it looked like it might work too. The mob slowed and I cleared my throat to make some inane promise of a replacement Santa right away, when Santa lived up to his pervy reputation by reaching out and copping a feel of my short, green-clad butt.And that's why I slapped Santa across the face in front of a whole line of impressionable young children.Hard.One second I was seeing red and mentally cursing the stupid commercial holiday and its tacky decorations and repetitive music and the generalcrappinessof my situation, and the next a little boy was yelling, “You can't hit Santa! You're a bad elf!” at me.Then he charged.The blow to my stomach knocked the air out of me. I stepped away from the little maniac and promptly tripped over the stair of the Santa platform and went crashing into St. Nick, who was the one who had started this whole nightmare. But everyone in line apparently seemed to think that I was trying to commit Santa-cide, and what started as a minor tussle turned into a full-on brawl with Jen screeching for mall security while attempting to shove her way over to me. Santa, half a dozen enraged shoppers, and I were all rolling around the floor, scrambling, and struggling to breathe given the number of elbows we had received (on purpose and accidentally) right in the gut.And things only got worse as I went crashing into the mall's fake Christmas tree, which tilted, then toppled over, causing dozens of shiny glass ornaments to shatter upon impact. Everyone: Santa, shoppers, Jen, and I all stopped moving and absorbed the wreckage we had created in a matter of minutes. I was still staring in horror when I felt a firm tug on my arm as mall security started dragging my skanky elf-clad posterior away while Jen trailed behind us chattering the whole time.
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