A Christmas Date (First Comes Love #3)

By: Camilla Isley

(A Festive Holidays Romantic Comedy)

First Comes Love Series

Book 3




One


Christmas Is Coming


“Your mother called again,” my assistant, Melanie, informs me as soon as I step foot into my office. “Third time this week.”

I sit behind my desk and peek at the calendar placed next to my unopened laptop.

Tuesday, December 11

Only Tuesday and we’re already on the third call of the week.

Bodes well.

“I’ll call her back when I have a minute,” I tell Melanie. “Anything else?”

Still standing on the threshold, she shifts on her feet, uncomfortable.

“Come on, I won’t shoot the messenger,” I promise her.

“Right, because she’s asked me to read you this, word for word.”

From the way Melanie is cowering, it can’t be good. I lean back in my white leather chair, cross my hands in my lap, and sigh. “Go ahead.”

“Nikki,” she intones, “I spent thirty-five hours in excruciating pain to bring you into this world, and the least I deserve after nurturing you in a loving home for years is for my daughter to return my calls, especially at Christmas. I’ve already set my expectations very low, as I wouldn’t presume you could pick up the phone and call your mother of your own free will…”

I grip the armrests of my chair until my knuckles turn white. “Can you skip the guilt tripping part and get to the core of the message?”

Melanie looks up at me. “Yeah, sure.” Her eyes shift back to the note, and she scrolls through the words for what feels like ages. “Ah, yes,” she finally sighs. “She demands to know when you’ll be heading home for Christmas, how long you’re staying, and if you’re bringing someone.”

I hate the holidays. And I hate when Mom uses the absent-daughter trope to shame me into doing what she wants. But what I hate the most is the two combined. And Christmas is the most inescapable holiday of all.

My stupid boss, along with millions of other idiots scattered around the planet, loves Christmas. So what does the prick do every year? He closes shop, forcing everyone to go on vacation. Which means that every December, without fail, I’m trapped visiting my family in Connecticut for too many days.

Even worse, this year Christmas falls on a Tuesday, meaning the agency will stay closed from the twenty-second to the twenty-ninth. Nine sanity-challenging days of hell in total. And my mother knows, and she’s been on my case for a month now to make sure she’ll get me for as many of those nine days as she can.

This must be punishment for something terrible I did in a past life, I swear.

I exhale. “I’ll call her back when I have a minute.”

Melanie is giving me the no-you-won’t stink eye, but I have my mean boss poker face on, so she keeps quiet.

“Is that all?” I ask.

“Err, no. You have lunch with your sister today.”

And my day isn’t getting any better.

“I’ll have to reschedule,” I say, shuffling the notes from the morning’s meetings. “Can you call Julia and tell her?”

“I could have… if you’d asked me this morning. But she’s been waiting for you in the lobby for twenty minutes.”

“What?!” I stare at my watch.

Half-past noon, already. Where did the morning go?

Well, no way out, then.

***

“Jules,” I greet my younger, blessed with all the good Moore genetics, sister.

With natural blonde hair, blue eyes, and an angel face, she’s the opposite of my dark hair, brown eyes, and sharp features. When people want to pay me a compliment, they tell me I’m interesting, unique, strong… never beautiful. Julia has always had the pretty-sister crown firmly glued to her head. Ever since we were babies, and her golden curls made her look like a cherub out of a painting. Even as a toddler, I was unimpressive.

“Nikki,” Julia shrieks, pulling me into a hug in the middle of the lobby. Without leaving me time to react, she grabs my hand and drags me out of the building. “I can’t believe we’re really having lunch! I was sure you’d cancel at the last minute. When Melanie didn’t call this morning, I was kind of surprised.”

Guess the absent-sister guilt technique is another trait she inherited from our mother. And, okay, I’m not the best at keeping engagements… Or calling, or texting… And it’s not that I don’t love Jules… It’s only that being around my baby sister is so hard sometimes…

“About that.” I avoid looking at her by buttoning up the collar of my coat against the freezing air. “Can we go somewhere nearby? I have to get back to the office soon.”

Hidden behind a curtain of flying hair, I watch as Jules struggles not to let her smile falter.

“Sorry,” she says, linking our arms and dragging me to the edge of the curb to hail a cab. “I’ve already picked a place, and Paul is meeting us there.”

A cab screeches to a halt in front of us seconds later, thankfully distracting Julia and buying me enough time to compose my features. Otherwise, my expression would’ve given me away. If being around Jules is hard, the combo Julia and Paul leans dangerously close to unbearable. Worse than family and holidays.

I open the cab’s rear door and settle on the black leather seat. Not because I’ve accepted my fate, but because I really need to sit before I fall down. Julia squeezes in next to me.

Once the cab pulls into traffic, I casually ask, “If you’re having lunch with your boyfriend, why do you need me to tag along? Don’t you guys want to be alone?”

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