Christmas, Actually

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CALLIE BANNING LAID her head on her desk and banged it three times, once for each of the phone calls she’d gotten in the past half hour. If one more person asked for her help...

               “Miss Banning?” The baritone brogue that accompanied the knock on her

second-grade classroom door should have been the last straw.

Callie shot up in her chair, the blush suffusing her cheeks blazing hot enough to set all of Christmas Town, Maine, on fire. It was all she could do not to mouth the word wow as a man stepped into—and took over—the room.

               “Is this a bad time?” The combination of sympathy and amusement shining in green eyes, along with the tamed Irish lilt, called to mind fields of clover dotting rolling hills. She’d spent many a night and more than a few days dreaming of traveling to the Emerald Isle. Now it seemed as if Ireland had come to her.

               “Shoulder-length, golden-streaked hair brushed the worn leather of the bomber jacket he wore over snug jeans, the hint of a plain white T-shirt peeking from under the collar.

               “Mr. Galloway.” Callie stood up so fast she sent math tests flying. The pages fell like scattered snowflakes to blanket the linoleum floor and Mr. Galloway’s snow-dampened boots.

               “Why do some Fridays feel like Mondays?” Callie bent to gather the tests. “But at least with Fridays, you get the weekend to recover.” Babbling, Callie. You’re babbling.

               She did the crouch and scoop around the desk, holding math tests against her chest until she plowed headfirst into his knees. Strong, firm hands gripped her arms and pulled her up, holding her steady as she found her footing. “Thank you,” she said as he placed the last of the tests on her desk.

               “I have a feeling it’s the least I can do.” The soft smile that curved his lips tied knots of tension in her belly as she set her stack of papers down. “What’s Eliza done?”