Copyright © 2019 by Jessica Calla
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Emma finished off her weekend meetings and emails so that she’d be free on Sunday to enjoy the day. She hadn’t been skating to Rockefeller Center in years, even though she’d been working across the street for five Christmases. Without telling Andrew, she’d also made plans to go to the Country Girl store and restaurant, and later to the see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
She’d prepaid everything so that Andrew wouldn’t have to foot the bill for what would be her holiday dream day. Still, she wasn’t sure how strict he was with the girls. Maybe he’d want to skate and then dart home. Whatever he wanted to do, of course, would be fine by her, and he knew how much excitement the girls could handle in one day. Even so, she hoped he’d let them enjoy the day she’d planned, and tour the city as her guests.
Awaiting their arrival, she paced around her penthouse in her jeans, green blouse, and a scarf she’d made for herself out of the same star-patterned material she’d used for her mother’s headscarf. She loved the black and gold pattern, and the sparkly thread gave it a holiday feel. Wearing it reminded her of Christmases with her mother.
Emma needed to channel her mother’s strength and grace that day. She wasn’t good at the social, people-type stuff, especially around holiday season. She hoped she wouldn’t be too pushy with the family who’d been so kind to invite her along.
Panic overtook her as she raked her mind, her palms sweating as she fisted them at her sides. Had she forced herself on this man? Had she invited herself? She grabbed her phone from her kitchen counter and pounded out a text.
Emma: It’s just dawning on me that maybe I’ve overstepped. If you want to spend the day with the girls alone, I totally understand that.
In seconds, the phone rang, his name displayed over the screen. She picked up. “Andrew?”
“Got your text. Everything okay?”
She could tell he was in the car, on speaker, from the muffled sound. “Yeah, I—”
“Is that Miss Emma?” one of the girls yelled. “Hi Miss Emma! It’s Devon! I brought my doll, Ginger.”
“And Bella! I’m here too. I have Stella with me. Is Santa there? Daddy, are we in the city yet?”
“We have to go through a tunnel,” Devon answered. “Right, Miss Emma? Do you know Madeline?”
“Eloise,” Bella yelled. “Not Madeline.”
Emma laughed and opened her mouth to answer but the girls kept yelling out questions. Finally, she gave up and let them argue, until she heard a rustle.
“Sorry,” Andrew said. “Hold on.”
She smiled as she heard him say, “Calm down. Let me talk.”
“Emma?” Andrew asked, as the girls chattered in the background. “Are you having second thoughts about today?”
“Oh, no, but…”
“Tell me what’s on your mind. Use code if you’re afraid of the Realsies twins.”
She sputtered a laugh. “You’re such a nerd.”
“I take that as a compliment.”
She heard the flirt in his tone. “As you should,” she countered, with a little flirt of her own.
“He is a nerd,” one of the girls yelled. “He wears math socks.” The other started cackling.
“Girls, please. Settle down. And they aren’t math socks.” He yelled at them, any ounce of flirtiness replaced with his stern “dad” voice. “Emma?”
She cleared her throat as she paced her kitchen, then took a deep breath. “Okay, well, I sometimes overstep boundaries and I know we’ve set some. And I wanted to make sure that you weren’t just trying to be polite by inviting me or afraid not to because of the work situation.” She waited, biting her knuckle and cringing at how she’d blurted that all out.
“I appreciate your honesty, but no…and no. We want you to come with us, and it has nothing to do with work.”
The girls screamed in the background about seeing Miss Emma again, which warmed Emma from head to toe. She spent so much time around adults and seniors that the occasional time she got to be around little people was all that more enjoyable. She loved tiny humans, especially when they gave her an excuse to go to the Country Girl store and see the Rockettes.
“All cleared up?” Andrew asked.
“Yes. Thank you. Sorry I’m a weirdo.”
He laughed. “You’re not a weirdo.”
“It’s just that I can talk in front of a conference of thousands of stockholders, but then I can’t seem to communicate to you, and instead just push my way into your family day. And look, now I’m babbling.”
“Emma,” Andrew said sternly.
“I invited you. You aren’t babbling. In fact, you’re actually kind of charming for a mean, viper, corporate type.”
“And we’re pulling into your garage right now. Will you come down and meet us?”
Emma grinned into the phone, relieved and assured. “You’re on the visitors’ list, so take the garage elevator to the lobby and I’ll meet you there.”
“Elevator to the lobby. Gotcha.”
“Thanks for letting me share your girls today.”
“Give them a few hours. You’ll be begging us to leave.” He laughed, as they yelled in the background.
A few minutes later, Emma grabbed her coat, bag, and keys. Her work cell sat on the kitchen counter, programmed to take any calls right to voicemail. She’d check it later if she had the chance, but today was for tourist-ing.
The penthouse elevator lifted right into her foyer, so she put the key in and waited for the doors to open. Before she knew it, she was down in the award-winning lobby, designed for boring wealthy folks, not little girls. They stood out like sore thumbs, bouncing around, flailing their dolls, singing a Christmas song.
Emma absolutely loved it. They brought life to the wood and silk-covered couches, and stern doormen. She may have caught Richie, her favorite doorman, grinning a bit.
“Friends of yours?” Richie asked.
When she nodded, he gave her smile.
Then she saw Andrew. He wore jeans, but with a few layers of shirts on top. A skull cap that matched his sea green eyes covered his blond hair. He looked like a model from the Ballard male line’s outdoor catalog.
He froze when he saw her, then held her gaze for a second. As if they were the only two people there, he took a long look at her, head to toe.
She’d modeled for the world’s best photographers in provocative poses that would make men blush. She’d been scrutinized from head-to-toe by famous clothing designers, who’d treated her body like a plastic mannequin. She’d even walked practically naked down runways in Milan in front of hundreds of industry professionals without batting an eyelash.
But something about the way Andrew looked at her in the lobby of her building made her insides turn to jelly and her knees weak. As she lifted a hand to wave, Bella, or was it Devon, jumped onto him, clinging to his shoulders, and the moment passed.
But it had been there. She was sure of it. He liked her, liked her. She liked him. This could be bad. Very bad, on many different levels.
She walked toward the group and ran a hand over her hair, smoothing it down, with the hope that the action would distract her from her thoughts. “Who’s ready to have some holiday fun?” she announced.
The twins squealed and wrapped their arms around her waist, Richie gave her a warning glance, probably because they were being noisy in the otherwise-snooty lobby, and Andrew smiled at her.
Over the girls’ heads, he reached out and placed a palm over her shoulder. She noticed his wedding ring right away, as he gave her a squeeze, the warmth of his touch traveling down her chest all the way to her toes. “Good to see you again, Boss Lady.”
She winked at him, then decided to focus on the girls. She couldn’t fall for Andrew Mooney. He didn’t fit into her life, and he certainly wasn’t ready for her to be part of his.
As Emma introduced him and the girls to Richie, Andrew was distracted by her peppermint scent. She looked beautiful, did she always? But it was the scent that lit him up from the inside. The scent of a gorgeous, sexy woman, close to him, smiling at him as if he were the best thing since sliced bread.
After making small talk with Richie, Emma suggested that Andrew let the girls see the elevator panel behind the desk, and pulled Andrew to the side. Keeping his eyes on Devon and Bella, he stood next to her as she dug through her bag.
She pulled out some papers and flung them at him. He didn’t take them at first, as he pathetically got lost in her big, brown eyes. Until finally she smacked him with them. “Wake up.”
“Sorry,” he said, and took the paper. “What is this?”
“Our agenda today.”
He raised an eyebrow. “We have an agenda?”
“I wanted to make a nice day for the girls, so I arranged everything on this list to happen.”
“And you call me a nerd.” Andrew scanned the agenda—limo service, skating, the Country Girl complex, the Rockettes. “Wow.”
“I maybe went a little overboard. But it’s all paid for and reserved. If you don’t think the girls can handle it though, we can modify.”
“It’s amazing. You didn’t have to pay for everything though.” Andrew mentally calculated the cost of the day and tried not to feel guilty that he would never be able to afford it without her help. The fact that she’d taken care of it was a relief.
“The Mooney’s are my guests today. If you wanted to get back at a certain time though, I know it’s a Sunday—”
“No, this is…” He looked up to meet her gaze. “It’s very generous of you. The time, the expense.”
Her smile filled his heart. “It’s my pleasure,” she said. He really thought she meant it, too. “Should we tell the Realsies?”
“We may want to get them outside though. They’re probably going to scream.”
“This place could use a little excitement. Hey, Devon, Bella?” Emma yelled.
They ran from Richie. Andrew made them go back and thank Richie, and then properly walk across the room. When they had done so, he glanced at Emma. “Do you want the honors?”
“What’s going on?” Devon asked.
Emma twisted her lips into an animated half-smile. He noticed they were shiny, like with lip gloss or something sparkly. “I think we should surprise them. What do you think, Star Lord?”
They giggled at her nickname for him. “Star Nerd!” Bella said.
“Math socks!” Devon added.
Andrew turned to her, his hands out in front of him, palms up. “They aren’t math socks.”
Emma shrugged. “Whatever you say. The girls seem pretty convinced though…”
“They’re not!” His eyes widened, pleading in jest. After a second, he relaxed his stance. “Okay, they may have numbers on them.”
Emma bust out a laugh. “You really have math socks? You work at Ballard, a trendsetter in the fashion industry, and you wear socks with numbers?” She focused on the girls. “I don’t know, you may be right, because they sound like math socks to me.”
The girls laughed and ganged up on him. He had no defense except to surrender. “Fine. They are math socks.” He pointed to the girls with his stern “dad” look. “And there is nothing wrong with math. Math is fun.”
The girls giggled, his little ones jumping up and down and completely focused on the tall, brunette. This was going to be a long day.
A long, wonderful, laughter-filled day.
By the time they arrived at the five o’clock showing of the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall, the twins were exhausted, giddy, and hyper with holiday cheer. Andrew and Emma, were exhausted too, but they carried on for the sake of the girls.
As the girls ran through the doors into the theater, even Emma admitted that maybe her agenda had been a bit too enthusiastic. “Do they ever stop?” she asked. “Where does the energy come from?”
“I have no idea,” he answered, thinking of his girls. “It’s like they are constantly fully charged, but then at night, they’re down to zero percent. There’s no in between.”
Devon and Bella bounced up and down as they found the row with their seats. They shuffled in, near the front and center, to the best seats in the house. Emma had spared no expense that day, and he appreciated it.
“Look how happy they are,” she said.
When Emma moved to follow them into the row of seats, he reached for her hand to stop her. He held it tightly, until she turned to face him. “They’re so happy because of you,” he said. “The limo, the skating, the Country Girl doll place. What was that place?”
She laughed, keeping a hold of his hand. “It was pretty intense. Ginger and Stella seemed to like it though.”
He glanced toward the girls, who looked from their tickets to the seat numbers on the chairs. When they plopped down into the seats, Ginger and Stella sat on their laps in their new Christmas outfits, courtesy of the hundred-dollar bill Jeffrey had insisted he spend on them. “I don’t know,” Andrew teased. “That Stella seems a bit shifty to me. I caught her eyeing one of Santa’s elves at the giant display.”
Emma laughed at his dumb joke, which made him like her even more.
“Come on, Boss Lady. Let’s go get some more spirit.” He led her into the row of seats.
“Secret?” she asked from behind him, leaning a little closer to talk over his shoulder.
He nodded, trying not to focus on how close her lips were to his ear. How their connected hands were smushed between them, against his lower back.
She whispered, “I think I’m actually Christmas-ed out.”
Feigning shock, he spun around. “No? Has that ever happened before?”
She pursed her lips and looked to the ceiling, as if thinking. “Nope. I can’t say it has.”
“Well, lucky for you, we only have two more, song-filled, tap dancing, loud, overstimulating hours to go until we complete the agenda.” With his free hand, he pulled the folded paper out of his back pocket and flicked it open. He didn’t want to let go of her hand yet. “Yep. This is the last activity.”
“Not really,” she said. “I think you all should stop up at my place to eat before you head back.”
“You do?” He scrunched his face, studying hers, over his shoulder.
“Am I being too pushy again? I’m sor—”
“Don’t say it. You aren’t. It’s just that…you aren’t sick of us yet?”
Her jaw dropped. “Sick of you? No, of course not. I’m sick of seeing Santa and candy canes, but I’m definitely not sick of the Mooney girls.”
He nodded and moved down the row again. The girls. She dug his girls. Of course she did—they were awesome.
Emma jerked back his hand. He spun to face her again. “Or the Mooney Dad.”
“You know,” he said, lifting a brow, “I would have been upset if you didn’t included me in that statement.”
“I could tell. Also,” she lifted their joined hands, “you’re holding my hand.”
“I am?” He looked at the hands like they were foreign objects. “I had no idea.”
“Uh-huh,” she said. “I think you have to let go now though, because I have to sit over there.”
The girls had taken the two middle seats of their four. It was probably better for Andrew and Emma to bookend them anyway, keep them trapped between them. “But I like your hand,” he said. “It’s warm.”
“Lucky for you, it should still be attached to my wrist after the show, so feel free to find it again.” She grinned and winked, and his pulse raced.
He let go of her hand, and silently chastised himself for overtly flirting. Apparently, he’d forgotten how energizing it could be to socialize with the opposite sex.
Emma sat next to Devon, and he sat next to Bella. The girls bounced in their seats, the dolls on their laps flying up and down.
“Settle down,” he said.
But he wasn’t sure if he was talking to himself or the girls.
- Sorry for the delay. I honestly didn’t think anyone was reading, so I stopped posting (and I’m also going through a pretty intense “I hate everything about writing and publishing” period, which I hope passes). Thank you to the people who asked for more and encouraged me. 🙂
- OKAY, so where did we leave off? Things I love about this chapter: getting a little of the NYC flavor of the holiday, the girls and their dolls and their excitement, and hopefully a taste of a Mooney family dynamic that now includes Emma.
- With the call in the beginning that Andrew takes in the car, I hoped to show a bit of Emma’s (lightweight, sweet romance) flaw–her insecurity and social awkwardness about inserting herself where she doesn’t belong. She inserted herself in a company where she doesn’t really feel she belongs, and now she’s inserting herself into a family, where she’s the odd person out.
- Things I don’t love about this chapter: I’m on the fence whether I could have inserted more detail into the Christmas experience. Maybe that would have sold the book to the publisher-who-shall-not-be-named? I don’t know. For me, Christmas is supposed to be the backdrop and the story is about the characters. I’m not sure it feels Christmas-y enough-ish? There’s more Christmas coming up, so reserve judgment until the end! Also, as I read this over as a reader and not a writer, I find myself feeling bad for Jeffrey stuck at home on his own (even though he insisted he was fine). Hopefully, you didn’t feel that way. If you did, though, yeah I get it!
- Additionally, as a writer it’s hard for me to do telephone talking scenes, as far as balancing dialogue with action and emotion. When it’s line after line of dialogue, the result is what my editor flags as “talking heads” and asks me to correct it. Sometimes it’s hard to add in action, because when you’re on the phone, you’re just on the phone. There aren’t even cords anymore that you could “twist around your finger.” So my characters tend to “pace” a lot when they are on the phone. A more talented writer than I probably has a fix for the phone talking.
For those of you tuning in, thanks for reading and sticking with the story! More soon…