The holiday hijinks continue in "Sleigh Bells and Second Chances," when Jessica's best friend makes her own way across the pond! Christina Lake does not want to be away at Christmas, but it's her duty to babysit one of London's hottest bands at their last-minute concert on Christmas Eve . . . even though she had a fling with Cary, the band's lead singer, that never officially ended. Now forced to reconnect, Christina is starting to think that maybe London is exactly where she's supposed to be to get the perfect New Year's kiss--at least until she finds out that he's been lying the whole time. Can Cary find a way to prove himself before the clock strikes twelve? Or will the New Year ring in a new romance?
Lyla Payne wraps up two perfect holiday novellas, ties them with a ribbon of romance, and tops them with a light dusting of snow. Perfect to curl up with under the tree. Just add hot cocoa!
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About the Author
Lyla Payne is the USA Today bestselling author of the Whitman University series, the Lowcountry Ghost books, and Mistletoe&Mr. Right. She graduated from Texas Christian University with a degree in film but no desire to tackle Hollywood, and made it through three quarters of a M.A. in ancient history before writing took over. She lives in the Midwest with her two dogs, two cats, and the characters in her head. Find her online at www.lylapayne.com and on Twitter: @Lyla_Payne.
Read an Excerpt
Mistletoe and Mr. Right
Two Stories of Holiday Romance
By Lyla Payne
Bloomsbury Publishing PlcCopyright © 2015 Lyla Payne
All rights reserved.
All my daydreams of Ireland are colored in greens — lime shades, olive hues, carpets of emerald grass all topped by a stormy sky. The reality disappoints me with far-reaching grays and whites, sprinkles of browns, and the slightest hint of purple on the cliff side, but then again, maybe I held expectations that were too high for December. It wouldn't be the first time in my life that expectations didn't live up to reality.
Nerves dance in my stomach, taking lessons for tangos or fox-trots, maybe hoping to make it big on So You Think You Can Dance, and not only because the rain slanting across the windshield of the winner of the Tiniest Rental Car Ever turns difficult travel into a nightmare. The roads in Western Ireland wind and twist, turning back on themselves like a slithering snake, bordered by waist-high stone walls that appear to have grown straight up out of the earth. Boulders so massive they must have been dropped there by giants litter the steep hillsides, adding to the wonder of being in a new country for the first time in my life.
I've never driven on the wrong side of the road before, or from the wrong side of a car, and this is the first time I've driven a stick shift in over four years. More than a few tree branches have fallen victim to my bad American driving since I left the airport in Shannon. With the increasing rain and the fact that I'm not the best driver in the world even in familiar conditions, it seems possible that I may not make it to Fanore alive.
That would put a real damper on my boyfriend's surprise Christmas gift — my unexpected presence at his family's bed-and-breakfast.
I take the last turn toward Brennan's hometown and settle back into the seat, trying my best to relax my death grip on the wheel. The small village — wee, from his descriptions — won't appear for at least another thirty miles.
A smile touches my lips at the thought of the last four months with my boyfriend; a smile that's aiming for nostalgia but stretches too thin. Too nervous. The night we met lingers in the back of my mind, like a ghostly handprint, but mostly it reminds me of all the hopes of that fresh beginning.
And how they've started to fade ...
It had all been perfect. Like a movie, like the way I'd planned on my life taking that all-important turn toward forever exactly when I'd planned on taking it.
* * *
Junior year started a week ago, but we've been too slammed getting through recruitment with Gamma Sigma to enjoy any of it. Semesters begin early for sorority girls, and the first parties never take place until after bids have been passed around to new pledges and we've all managed to assure them we're capable of conducting ourselves like proper ladies.
I'm tired, worn out even though classes have barely started, and inclined to blow off the Lambda party, but my roommate Christina refuses to take no for an answer. As usual.
"Jessica, seriously. Come on. We've been holed up in this house staring at résumés, faking smiles, and eating peanut-butter sandwiches for over two weeks. Let's get out. Smile for real. Maybe even laugh."
"I don't feel like it." I cast a look toward my ethics textbook, the sight of which inspires reconsideration. "What would I even wear?"
"Who cares what you wear? Just get up and put something on." She knocks my feet off my desk and goes to stand in front of the mirror, slathering on thick lip gloss and sticking on fake eyelashes while I drag a simple plum-colored sundress from the closet we share.
"Sure. It'll make your eyes pop." She eyes me in the mirror. "Maybe straighten your hair."
I groan, but one look at the dark brown nest atop my head cuts off any formal argument.
We're primped, out our door, and through the door to the party within the hour. The Greek houses at TCU are on-campus dorms, which means no parties, raging or otherwise, so we're being hosted by one of the Lambda brothers at his rental.
It's a standard night, with standard red plastic cups brimming with watery Natty Light from the keg and standard music pumping through their sound system as Chris picks up a drink and leads me into the backyard. The sweltering air sticks my dress to every piece of wet skin, and my hair clings to the nape of my neck. Everyone around me slams their drinks, desperate to get to the point where they don't notice how uncomfortable they are, but the idea of losing control of my mouth or my body has always seemed far worse than enduring the heat of Texas in August. Or anything else, for that matter.
I sip a bottle of water, laughing when the mood hits me, mostly scanning the crowd for this guy Jeremy that I've had a crush on since he played in our charity soccer tournament last year.
Instead, I keep catching grass-green eyes attached to shaggy brown hair and a stupidly handsome face over by the fire pit. I've never seen the guy before, and he doesn't really fit the über-rich, preppy mold of a Lambda, which makes me think he must be new. TCU is too big for me to know everyone, but after three years it's small enough to recognize all of the faces.
"Are you going over there, or what?" Chris slurs, her gaze following mine. "You two have been staring for like, two hours."
I shrug, uncomfortable. "I don't know. I like it better when the guy makes the first move."
"What?" Her eyes pop open in exaggerated shock and she clutches her chest, which is easy to do since it's shoved halfway out of her clingy black top. "Jessica MacFarlane, feminist and go-getter extraordinaire, thinks her ten-year plan is going to come together waiting for a guy to make the first move? Keep dreaming."
I whack her arm but can't help smiling. Chris and I have been close since pledging Gamma Sig together freshman year, but we're total opposites — starting with the fact that she thinks my plan is complete crap.
That said, she has a point. If I'm going to get engaged within a year of college graduation, giving me plenty of time to travel and establish a career before having the first of two children, maybe the time for waiting has passed. I'm already a junior, after all.
Who says guys have to make the first move, anyway?
I smooth my dress, toss my hair, hoping the humidity hasn't turned it into a coonskin cap, and take a deep breath. "Okay. I'm going in."
The walk across the small yard seems to take an eternity, especially since Handsome sees me coming before I make it halfway there and breaks into a heart-stopping smile.
"I must say, I like being the one who makes someone else walk across a room for once." He greets me with an unbelievable accent, his green eyes fastened to my face. "I'm Brennan. Donnelly."
"Jessica MacFarlane," I manage, my fingers tightening around my sweaty plastic bottle. It pops and his eyebrows go up, his whole face smiling. "That's a great accent. California?"
He laughs, luckily aware I'm joking, and my muscles relax the slightest bit. This isn't so bad.
"Ireland, I'm afraid."
"What are you doing in Texas?"
And so the conversation unfolded, uncovering mundane facts about him and about me, until he loosened up enough to ask for my number before we headed our separate ways. He called after the standard three days, we'd gone to another party together, and that had been that. Nothing special, except for him, and the way he checked every box on my list.
* * *
Unlike everyone else in my life, Brennan didn't comment on my not drinking. He didn't think it was weird that I have to have every last detail planned out. He lets me be me, which is great.
Or it was great. I frown, pulling my thoughts back to the present as the sign for Fanore pops up on the side of the road. Now, after four months of fun but no clear direction for the future, I'm wondering if Brennan's lack of interest in how I do things translates to a lack of interest in general.
And I'm not getting any younger.
A gust of wind knocks the car sideways and I focus harder, noting that my boyfriend was not joking when he described Fanore as a blip in the road. Maybe four turnoff s angle from the main road, where there are two pubs, a post-office-slash-convenience-store, and a few other storefronts I can't make out through the rivulets streaming down the foggy windshield.
The sign declaring the turn for the THISTLE FARMHOUSE B&B comes out of nowhere. My tires lock and slide when I slam on the brakes in an attempt to navigate the turn, but they manage to keep me on the road. The car slams into dirty, deep puddles of mud along the unpaved road toward the Donnellys' bed-and-breakfast, jarring my teeth and sending vibrations through my limbs. My knuckles are so tight on the wheel my fingers have gone numb, and I force slow breaths out through my nose. We're almost there. Dying on an Irish back road to nowhere before college graduation is not part of the plan.
Cows and sheep graze beside the road, oblivious to the freezing sheets of rain, and if there are fences keeping them safe from my kamikaze driving, they aren't visible at the moment. At least three other bed-and-breakfasts lurk in the mist — one called the White House, and then the Donour Lodge, which has some amazing landscaping. Fanore lies deep in the country, with the crashing ocean and rocky beach on my right and nothing but pastures and homes on the left. The Donnellys' place must be the pretty white farmhouse up ahead.
I squint, trying to guess how much farther, when something white and furry flashes in front of the car.
This time the brakes respond to my frantic stomps, tires working hard to grip the sludge of the road, but they can't prevent the nauseating thunk followed by a pathetic mewl that challenges the rush of the wind.
Excerpted from Mistletoe and Mr. Right by Lyla Payne. Copyright © 2015 Lyla Payne. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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