[quarter]

Disclaimer: You know the drill.

A/N: Merry X-Mass, Princess. :-)

**

"Dammit." Denise murmured as she tried again to make a call on her cell phone. She kept getting the "no service available" message on her phone, and she really needed to call a cab. "Dammit." She muttered, throwing her phone back into her bag and digging around for any change she might have to use the pay phone near by.

Panic rising, she dug and dug but found no change, though she did find that lip balm that she thought had gone missing months ago. "Dammit." She said again, whirling around when she heard a voice behind her.

"Need a hand?" The voice asked. "I hear those bags have been known to eat women alive."

Denise stared up into the eyes of none other than Chad Knaus himself.

Stunned, she blinked several times and tried to remain standing upright. Never in a million years did she expect to run into him here. She had flown out to North Carolina the day before Christmas Eve after being granted an interview for the Fox Sports production team. The interview was over, she was stranded at the studio with no phone and no change, and Chad himself was standing in front of her, looking vaguely amused at her antics.

"I…um…I'm trying to find a quarter." She said, finally regaining the ability to speak.

'He doesn't know you, De.' She reminded herself. 'He has no idea who you are.'

But she knew who he was. Oh yes, she knew.

She'd spent hours talking about him to the girls. She had his picture on her computer's desktop. She'd even met him in Kansas City at the racetrack months ago.

She smiled at the memory, but knew it would be better not to bring it up. For all she knew, he might think she was stalking him.

What the hell was he doing at Fox Sports, anyway? Especially right before Christmas?

"You need a quarter? You need to make a call?" Chad asked, suddenly concerned. "I can loan you my cell phone."

"Thanks." Denise managed to say. "I'm trying to call a cab. It'll only be a short call, if you are sure you don't mind."

"I don't mind." Chad said with an easy smile, yanking his phone off his belt. "Here."

With shaking hands, Denise took the phone and dug out the cab company's card from her pocket. She tried to calmly place the call as Chad looked at her, his head cocked to one side as though analyzing her. She quickly hung up the phone and gave him a grateful smile. "Thanks. I really appreciate it."

"No problem." Chad said, taking the phone back and brushing her hand in the process. "Do I…do I know you from somewhere?"

Denise thought quickly, then decided in a sudden moment to play it cool. Exactly the opposite of how she was feeling. "I don't think so."

"Are you sure? You seem really familiar." Chad continued, still staring at her, and Denise felt her cheeks redden to match her hair.

She shook her head no. "I don't think you know me."

"I feel bad about leaving you here alone. How about I wait until your cab comes?" Chad said conversationally. "It's getting dark and this is a weird part of town."

"You don't have to do that…" Denise protested, but Chad waved her off.

"My pleasure. So tell me, what brings you to NASCAR on Fox?" He asked.

"Job interview." Denise answered with a nervous smile. "Production crew for the studio. What about you?" She asked without thinking.

"I…um…" She could see Chad hesitate about what to say, as though he knew she might or might not know him. "I had some business with the television studio. Regarding NASCAR, actually."

"Oh." Denise said, biting her tongue to keep from laughing at herself. "Are you famous?"

Chad laughed, that warm, wonderful laugh she'd heard before. "I don't think so."

"Are you…Dale Earnhardt Jr?" Denise teased with a smile, making Chad laugh again.

She wondered if she could just keep him laughing until the end of time so she could keep hearing it.

"Sorry to disappoint. I'm not Junior." Chad said. "I'm…just a guy connected to the sport. No big."

Denise nodded, though her mind screamed to 'fess up, to tell him she knew exactly who he was. But she knew better - just enjoy the time with him.

The continued to make small talk for the next ten minutes, like people who had always known each other, not like strangers. Finally the subject of Christmas came up. "Does your family live near by?" Denise asked.

Chad looked down at the ground with a glare. "No."

"You aren't going home for Christmas?" Denise asked, shocked.

"Nope. Going to be working, I think." Chad said stoically.

"Oh." Denise breathed. "I'm…I'm sorry, I think."

Chad gave her a rueful smile. "It's just like any other day."

"It is." Denise agreed. "And it isn't." She admitted. "I'm bummed because I couldn't get a flight home until the day after Christmas. Usually I spend it with my family, but I guess not this year."

"You couldn't reschedule the interview?" Chad asked seriously.

"They seemed pretty…rigid." Denise said with a small smile. "And the last thing I wanted to do was blow my chances by being inflexible. Still, it's just another day, right?" She said, widening her smile.

Chad nodded slowly as Denise saw her cab pull around the corner. With a disappointed sigh, she motioned for the driver that she was there. "I guess my ride is here." She said softly. "Thanks again for the phone, and for keeping me company and protected from scary production crew members."

Chad laughed, filling Denise's ears with the sound. "My pleasure. I hope you have a good Christmas."

"I hope you do too. Don't work though. At least take the day off and avoid the shop." She said with a smile.

Chad cocked his head to one side. "How do you know I work in a shop?"

Denise reddened again then thought quickly. "You work in NASCAR. It was an easy guess." Chad nodded and extended his right hand to hers, taking her hand in his and shaking it solemnly. "It was…nice meeting you." Denise stumbled over her words and Chad smiled.

"It was very nice to meet you as well." Chad opened the cab door for her and helped her climb into the backseat. He called to the driver in the front, who turned around to face him. "You give this lady a smooth ride, and make sure she gets into her hotel safely." The cabbie nodded and Denise smiled at up at Chad the Gentleman.

"Thanks again." She whispered. "Bye."

"Peace." Chad said, closing the door and giving her a short bow. Denise settled back in the seat and took a deep breath, then jerked forward when the image of Chad jogging beside the car and knocking on her window came into view.

"Stop the car, please." She asked the driver and the car screeched to a halt. She rolled down the window and looked at Chad quizzically. "Hi?" She said in confusion but with a broad grin.

"I knew I knew you! You're Denise, right? We met in…god, I can't remember. Wait! Kansas City! Right??" Chad panted, his hands gripping the window, as though willing the car not to move again.

Denise's eyes widened. He couldn't remember her. He just couldn't. "I…um…yeah." She stammered, feeling like an idiot for not revealing who she was earlier.

"Why didn't you say something??" Chad screeched, making Denise laugh.

"I don't know!" She giggled. "I was afraid that you would think I was a stalker, or worse, that you wouldn't remember me."

"I remember you. I remember that red hair and that bright smile. And how you looked in my crew's shirt." Chad said with a wide grin. "You're one of my girls!"

Denise giggled, dying at that moment to tell Carrie and Marissa about being one of Chad's 'girls'. "I am." She smiled.

"Get out of that cab, woman, and let me take you to dinner or something. Or at least drive you to the hotel myself." Chad insisted, already opening the door for her.

Hastily, she settled with the cab driver and climbed out of the car, Chad's warm hand on her arm, making her flush to the roots of her hair and the tips of her toes. God, he smelled soooo good…

"I can't believe you didn't say anything." Chad repeated, smiling down at her.

"I was trying to be cool. Duh." Denise said with another giggle. "All the right girls are cool."

"I think you're cool." Chad teased, his hand on her back as he guided her towards his Porsche. "I didn't mean to drive away your cab driver and be all boss like. If you aren't comfortable with me driving you, I'll understand. I mean, really, you don't even know me. I could be a crazy axe murderer."

"Hmm." Denise pondered. "Axe murderers rarely tool around town in Porsches or lend damsels in distress cell phones. I'll take my chances." She said with a wink. "As long as you don't mind if I use your phone again in a few minutes."

"Sure, no problem." Chad said, unlocking his car and ushering Denise inside with his hand on her arm. She turned to look up at him without thinking, a small smile on her lips as the streetlights reflected in his eyes, his smile brightening the dark. In a flash, his head lowered and his lips pressed to hers. She tensed, then relaxed into his arms as he deepened the kiss. He pulled away and tucked a strand of hair behind her ears. "I feel like I know you." He whispered. "Like there's some cosmic reason we're both here tonight."

"Still believe in Santa Claus?" Denise teased, her knees shaking.

"I do now." He breathed, kissing her again. "I do now." Finally he pulled himself away and gently helped her into the front seat, tugging his phone from his belt again. "Here you go."

"Thanks." Denise said, giving him a bright smile. Quickly, she dialed the number and waited for the call to connect as Chad walked around the back of the car.

"Marissa! Holy shit, you are not going to believe what just happened! I just finished my interview and…"