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I saw it all…from his Yule log to his jingle balls. At a holiday party, I bumped into my naked sworn enemy.
Everyone in my town knows Ronan as the dashing football star. I get it. He’s hot. And he can throw a ball. Big deal.
He’s been my nightmare since I was nine. Now he’s a six-foot, drop-dead gorgeous version of the menace who terrorized me.
So naturally, he’s my companion to every-single-freaking Christmas event this year. I’m Mrs. Claus in the annual parade. Mason is Santa.
Our nonstop banter should drive me insane. His cocky attitude should be a huge turn-off. But if there’s one man who can pull off seductive in a Santa suit—it’s Ronan.
Let’s just say, stockings aren’t the only thing hung at his house.
If I can make it through the week without kissing him, it’ll be a Christmas miracle.
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Christmas sucks. Bah humbug. Everything about this holiday blows—the candy canes, mandated time with family, the banal decorations, and the insipid songs.
God, I wish the neighborhood carolers would fa-la-la off a cliff.
If it were possible, I’d wake up after all this nonsense was over.
Unfortunately, my mom’s hell bent on forcing the holidays down my throat. Nobody gets to skip Christmas festivities.
“You’ll feel better. I promise.” Mom grips my elbow, frog-marching me across the lawn.
“I’m fine.” It feels like I’ve repeated that phrase a hundred times to her, my friends, everyone. The world thinks I’m on the verge of a meltdown because my fiancé dumped me.
“You need company, sweetie. Sitting in front of the TV all day isn’t good for you.”
Neither is being force-fed peppermint humbugs and hot cocoa. I open my mouth and close it just as fast. There’s no fighting Mom’s patented don’t-argue-with-me-because-I-know-what’s-best look.
When they find out, the first words out of everyone’s mouths after Merry Christmas will be what happened? I won’t have a clue what to say.
Honestly, I have no idea what went wrong. One minute I was picking a caterer for our wedding, and the next James was dumping me. He sat me down, wearing a lumpy sweater his grandmother knitted, and said nothing for a whole sixty seconds. He literally couldn’t spit out the words. When he did, the bottom dropped from my stomach.
I don’t think I want to be with you anymore.
That was all he said.
It was as if someone had vacuumed out my insides and replaced them with cotton balls. He followed me like a concerned puppy as I silently packed my bag without another word.
There were no tears. No drama. Only James’ soft, reassuring voice asking if I was okay, if I wanted to talk, if I needed any money. More than anything else, that pissed me off. After he offered me cash, I finally looked at him.
I have my own money, asshole.
An hour later, I was lugging my giant suitcase onto the train station, headed back home. I thought it’d be a chance to lay low, stuff my face with eggnog and gingerbread men, but no. Mother has other plans. She’ll haul me to as many social events as possible.
The Smiths, our next-door neighbors, are throwing a holiday party. We’re arriving early to help prepare. As we approach the snow-dusted porch, she releases my elbow. I’m caged in by the wraparound railing.
Nowhere to run.
“Hurry up,” Mom snaps. “It’s cold.”
Steeling myself, I knock. A Christmas wreath bounces with my fist and crashes to my feet. “God damn it.”
“Gigi, don’t swear!”
I pick up the tangle of pine branches, needles scattering all over my jeans, and dust snow from the leaves. I hastily replace it. Seconds later, the door flies open.
“Welcome!” My rosy-cheeked neighbor booms. “Come inside.”
Mom walks in first, bumping her bony cheek against Violet’s. Arms wide, Violet envelopes me into her flour-caked bosom.
“How are you?” She squeezes my bicep and makes a scandalized gasp. “You’re so thin. Poor thing.”
Here goes nothing. “I’m doing great. You?”
“Good,” she says. “But I don’t believe you for a second. You don’t have to pretend.” She disengages, blue eyes piercing through me. “If someone broke off an engagement with my child like that—” she clamped her lips tight suddenly, cheeks going pink. “It’d get ugly.”
I smile at Violet, who is about as threatening as Jack Russell terrier. All my life, I knew her as the single mom next door. She was sweet, except for the occasional outburst, “Ronan! Put down the china!”
“Yes, it’s been awful.” Mom’s heels rapped the foyer, her ponytail swinging like a pendulum. “We already paid for the engagement party. Two thousand dollar deposit at the country club—gone.”
Violet gasps. “Oh dear.”
He’s reimbursing us, at least. “She doesn’t need to know all the details.”
“Vi’s not a stranger, Gigi.” Mom click-clacks into the red-and-green kitchen, sliding her minced meat pie over the counter. “She’s lived next door your whole life. We’re practically family.”
Violet beams at Mom, moving the pie into the packed fridge. Mom stands beside Violet. Flour dusts the marble countertop as my mousy mother slabs apricot jam in tiny, square pastries before folding them into pillboxes. She sprinkles powdered sugar, bumping her wrist lightly against the sieve.
I bite my tongue as I wander the house, assaulted by pine and candy canes everywhere I look.
Mom rolls up her sleeves. “Place looks beautiful, Vi.”
“Thank you!” She smiles at the garland of postcards hanging over her head. “It wasn’t any trouble. I love the holidays.”
I’m at that stage where Christmas is no longer the big affair it used to be, but Vi clearly still thinks her kids are eleven-year-olds. I wander into the family room, which looks like Santa Claus barfed everywhere. Glitter sparkles from fake snow strewn around a towering Douglas fir pine, which fills the air with the stinging scent. I wrinkle my nose, staring at golden baubles dangling from branches. A picture frame revolves, revealing a decades-old photograph of Violet and her two sons. Liam and Ronan.