O Hell All Ye Shoppers Read online





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  By Louisa Masters

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  O Hell, All Ye Shoppers

  By Louisa Masters

  Ethan Hall plans to fill Saturday, December 23, with junk food and bad TV, a day just for him amid the holiday chaos… until his baby sister calls and begs him to go collect a present for her. At the biggest shopping center in Australia. On the busiest shopping day of the year. Hell no. Right?

  Ethan’s soft heart gets the best of him. He battles through the parking lot, and in the main shopping concourse, he’s trampled, elbowed, and bombarded with terrible holiday music. Then he enters hell itself, a specialty store aimed at women… where he meets Ty. They bond in a sea of estrogen and manic shoppers, fighting together to attain freedom, only to find they’re not quite ready go their separate ways.

  To everyone who hates shopping in “hell” week—you are not alone!

  “NO.”

  “Oh, come on, E! I’m desperate. Please. Please please please!”

  “No.”

  “Eeee-than! How can you do this to me?”

  “Me? How can you make me the bad guy here? You’re the one who was so disorganized, she forgot to buy her sister a Christmas present. Just because I don’t want to go shopping for you on December 23 does not put me in the wrong.”

  Ethan Hall glared at his TV, where a perfectly good—well, maybe boringly average—movie was paused so he could take an annoying call from his little sister. It was one of those wonderful years where Christmas fell on a Monday, which meant Ethan had a long weekend. He was meeting friends on Christmas Eve, and had family commitments on Christmas Day, but this glorious Saturday was supposed to be just for him. A day of sloth and laziness and pre-Christmas eating, vegged out in front of the TV with the air-conditioning on high. Instead, Erin had called and wanted him to go to Chadstone, of all places—Australia’s biggest shopping center, and certainly the busiest one in Melbourne. Ethan avoided it at the best of times, but especially on Saturdays. And this was not just any Saturday, but Saturday, December 23. There was no way in hell he was going there.

  “Please,” Erin begged, and this time Ethan thought he heard the edge of tears in her voice. He sat up straight. “Please, Ethan. I can’t get away from here for hours, and then I’m going straight to Mike’s friend’s house, and Mum has all the kids all day today, so she can’t go. I’ve already asked five of my friends, but everybody’s rushed off their feet because it’s two days before Christmas. I know this is your special day off, and I know you hate shopping, but please… I can’t turn up to Christmas without a present for Dana. She’ll never forgive me. You know what she’s like.”

  Ethan’s resolve wavered, because he did know what Dana was like. She would gladly do anything you needed without having to be asked, but she took offense more easily than anyone he knew.

  Erin must have sensed his hesitation, because she pressed forward. “It’s all paid for and everything,” she assured him. “You just have to pick it up. Go in there, give them the name, and take it.”

  Ethan sighed and turned off the TV. “Fine.”

  YOU JUST have to pick it up, my arse. I am such a sucker. Ethan scowled at the crowd pressing in around him. First he’d had to wait in traffic for thirty minutes to even get into the damn parking lot. Then he’d had to drive around for another twenty minutes, desperately searching for a spot. During that time, he’d been cut off by three reckless drivers and had seen numerous worn-down parents trying to corral their children while lugging a ridiculous number of shopping bags to their cars—where there would be several people waiting to take their spot.

  He’d finally found parking (and had possibly become one of those reckless drivers when he’d seen a spot about to open up in the next aisle, but hey, desperate times), and then… then he’d entered the belly of the beast.

  Why were all these people here, shopping, two days before Christmas? Were none of them organized? Had none of them done what he did and bought most of their presents online—or in November? And worse, why were so many of them smiling? Did they actually enjoy shopping with people pressing in on all sides, elbows and arms smacking them in their faces and torsos?

  It took another fifteen minutes to find the right store in the seething morass of depraved humanity. Ethan considered himself a hero for not going on a murderous rampage, despite having his feet stepped on twice, nearly being run down by first a shopping cart and then an irritable toddler, and being elbowed and jostled more times than he could count. The noise level was insane, people talking, yelling, children shrieking, and beneath it all, the constant, cheery sound of annoying, chipper Christmas carols. Ethan had always rather enjoyed Christmas carols—in moderation, of course—but why were they only playing songs about things Santa did or where he was going? And why did they all sound the same?

  Inside the store it was only marginally less crowded. Worse, though, was that the crowd consisted of only women, all staring at him as though he were some kind of ravaging villain. Ignoring them, Ethan wove through the people and displays toward the counter. He stood in line, kind of patiently, trying not to stare at anyone or anything, and wondering what the hell the store actually sold. There seemed to be piles of feminine crap everywhere—clothes and accessories and candles and… wasn’t this supposed to be a specialty store?

  Finally, finally, it was his turn. He stepped up to the counter and faced the manically smiling teenager there.

  “Hi! Can I help you?” she demanded with such forced cheer that Ethan nearly took a step back.

  “My sister bought something and I need to pick it up,” he said, wondering if he should smile or if that would push her over the edge. He decided against it. He didn’t really want to smile, anyway.

  “What name’s it being held under?” the girl asked, casting a longing glance over her shoulder at a door that presumably led to the back room.

  “Erin Hall.”

  She disappeared through the door, although Ethan was not entirely sure she was going to look for Erin’s purchase. Perhaps she was just escaping the madness.

  Again he found himself waiting, this time staring fixedly at that door, focusing all his energy on an image of the sales assistant coming back through holding… whatever it was Erin had bought.

  And waiting.

  And waiting.

  The other sales assistants rang customers up, and there was a general flow of jostling traffic to and from the counter, and still Ethan waited.

  Not patiently.

  Much like the customers lined up around him.

  Finally she came back out… empty-handed.

  “I’m sorry, there’re a lot of holds and orders back there, and I’m having trouble finding yours,” she said, no longer smiling. “Can you tell me what it is? That will be easier to find than going through every single one.”

  Ethan cringed. “Sorry, I don’t know. Something girly?” She gave him a look that should have incinerated him, and he fumbled in his pocket for his phone. “Um, let me call and find out.”

  “Never mind,” she told him, and went back through the door.

  “Guess she doesn’t want to wait,” said a voice, and Ethan turned to the man who’d come up beside him. He’d never seen the guy before in his life, but right then, surrounded by women and female crap that made no sense, it was like discovering a long-lost brother.

  He looked at the guy properly. A really hot, blond-haired, green-eyed long-lost brother whom he wouldn’t mind getting to know better.

  “Guess not,” he said lamely, then followed it up with, “I’