An Unexpected Christmas

Chapter One

Bah-’Effin-Humbug

December 21st

Christmas was Adele James’s favorite time of year…or it had been. This year, Santa Claus could go sit on a candy cane for all she cared. Holly Jolly Jackass.

Adele’s lack of holiday cheer—and general Grinchiness—was due to one man: Troy Slater, Hollywood heartthrob and all around scumbag. They’d meet on the set of Ponce, the Downton Abbey-like TV show where Adele was the head costume designer. Troy had been playing a guest role for the season and he’d flirted with her shamelessly for the five months they’d been shooting.

As a general rule, Adele didn’t get involved with people she worked with, and she’d absolutely refused to break that rule with him. Mainly because if things went sour, she didn’t want an uncomfortable working environment. He might just be visiting for the season, but the set of that show had become like a home to her. She wasn’t going to mess around with one of her safe spaces, which meant she wasn’t going to mess around with him.

Plus, she’d seen the tabloids, she knew the gossip that swarmed around him. He had a different beautiful woman on his arm every other week. Except for those months he’d been pursuing her. During that time, there’d been no other women. Not a one.

But even with that, she’d held strong, didn’t give in…that was until the day they’d wrapped for the season. They’d both been looking for that dark corner where he’d laid a kiss on her that had quite literally made her weak in the knees. “We don’t work together anymore. Will you go out with me now?” he’d whispered against her lips between kisses.

He’d dazzled her. Made her believe in the possibility of something more. Something lasting. Something true. Something she’d thought could’ve been love. But she’d been wrong. Very, very wrong. Turned out, it was all a mirage.

Four months of a mirage. Or maybe the constantly flashing cameras that followed them everywhere had blinded her. From the moment they’d started dating, they’d been stalked by the paparazzi. Not all that surprisingly as Troy was one of Hollywood’s It Boys, everyone wanted to know what and whom he was doing. There were photographs of them on vacation in Hawaii, watching the World Series, walking the red carpet at two different movie premieres, getting breakfast at the café around the corner from his Manhattan apartment, and so on, and so forth.

The headlines with those pictures were all the same:

Slater Is Smitten!

Has Troy Slater Found Love At Last?

Is Troy Slater Finally Ready To Settle Down?

The last front page photos that had graced the tabloids had been taken two weeks ago. They’d gone skiing in Switzerland to celebrate his birthday. She’d gotten him this awesome vintage watch as a gift, the very same watch he’d been wearing in the newest picture, a picture she wasn’t in. It was of Troy at an exclusive club in New York…where he was in the middle of getting a blowjob.

The photo had gone viral within twenty-four hours of being taken, which was right around the time Adele had gotten off a twelve-hour plane ride from Scotland. She’d been on the other side of the Atlantic on the set of the current movie she was working on while her boyfriend was cheating on her.

Merry fucking Christmas to her.

The plane landed at seven in the morning, and it would be an understatement to say Adele’s phone blew up with notifications when she turned it on. There were thirty-eight voicemails, seventy-two missed calls, one hundred and sixty-one emails, and three hundred and nine text messages. Not to mention she’d been tagged on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram more times than she was going to count.

Many of those notifications were calls and texts from Troy, but the only thing she listened to was the first voicemail he left. She got as far as Adele, I can explain before she ended it.

Explain? What? Did the woman in the picture trip and fall? Was he choking and this was a new way to perform CPR?

Yeah, she didn’t think so, and she didn’t want to hear a single word he had to say. So once she talked to her family—and the few friends she felt needed to hear from her—she shut off her phone.

To say she was humiliated would be an understatement, but more than anything else she was angry. But she preferred it this way. Preferred to be pissed off. It was better than being sad. She knew if she let it, it would overwhelm her. Once she started crying it would be very hard for her to stop. So during this time while Adele wasn’t crying, she decided to regroup at her best friend’s place in Atlanta.

Felicity Carter was not only one of the stars of Ponce, but she was also the lead actress in the current film they were shooting in Scotland. It was a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, except in this one the badass princess saves the prince. As it had been Felicity’s private jet they’d been flying on, she was sitting right next to Adele when all hell broke loose.

The first part of the regrouping plan was to eat—and drink—her feelings before sleeping off the jet lag. As Atlanta was Felicity’s hometown, she of course knew all of the best restaurants in the city. The problem was, so did the paparazzi. It was made perfectly clear within just a few hours that Adele was being stalked. Everyone wanted to get a picture and a comment.

“Did you know Troy was cheating on you?”

“Do you know who the woman in the photo was?”

“Are you devastated?”

“Did you love him?”

“Weren’t you going to spend Christmas with him?”

“What are you going to do now?”

Well, wasn’t that the million dollar question? What was she going to do now? Because she obviously wasn’t going to be spending Christmas with that man. She wouldn’t be spending any time with him ever again.

Before everything had gone down, she had been planning to spend the holidays with Troy and her family in Florida. But what with her current black mood, Adele really wasn’t in any state to be in the same house as all of the happily married people in her family.

She just wanted to be alone. She didn’t have the energy to put on a happy face for anyone. Or to be the pitied, lonely sister/daughter at Christmas. So what if she was twenty-eight years old and the longest relationship she’d ever been in hadn’t even gotten past the six-month mark? She didn’t need anyone to feel sorry for her.

Nope. She just needed to get away from everyone and everything. No news. No photographers. No people who might recognize her currently very recognizable face.

All of those requirements left her with her current destination: the family cabin in Nashville, Tennessee. It was quiet and secluded, just what she needed.

Another thing she needed was the car ride in which she blasted angry breakup music—there’d been absolutely no Christmas music coming through her speakers—and sang at the top of her lungs. Her four-year-old Dalmatian Katie (short for Katharine Hepburn) howled along for a few songs before she burrowed under her blankets in the back seat and took a nice long nap.

As Adele took her dog everywhere, Katie was no novice at traveling, whether it be plane, train, or automobile. This wasn’t her first rodeo.

Before hitting the road that morning, Adele had gone grocery shopping and loaded up a cooler with perishables. Besides a quick bathroom break outside Chattanooga, she hadn’t needed to stop for anything. The drive usually took about four hours, but what with holiday traffic and bad weather, it took her about six.

It was almost three thirty when she started to make her way down the long drive that led to the cabin. The pine trees that lined the way were currently snow-free, but they weren’t going to stay that way for long. It was clear to her that a storm was settling in, the sky gray and gloomy, and it was only a matter of time before the snow started falling.

Once Adele got to the cabin, she’d unpack, throw together a pot of stew, and take a long, hot bath. Despite the heater in her car, a chill had settled into her bones that she knew could only be washed away with a nice soak. She was beyond looking forward to a quiet night alone with Katie. Except, when she pulled up in front of the cabin, her evening alone was dashed in an instant.

There was a familiar white Land Rover parked in the driveway and smoke was rising up from the chimney. The sight of the car immediately told Adele who was inside: her brother’s best friend and the last person on the planet that she needed to be stuck in a cabin with.

He was the very same man she’d had a crush on for the last six years.

Jace Kilpatrick wasn’t big on holidays. Which wasn’t all that surprising given how he grew up. His mother passed away when he was eight and his father never had time for anything besides his career. Renowned heart surgeon Ferguson Kilpatrick didn’t bother with something as unimportant as celebrating Christmas, not even for his only son.

The two Kilpatrick men weren’t close in any way, shape, and/or form. After his mother died, Jace was pretty much raised by Ilana (the nanny/maid/cook) and his hockey coach Hank. The second he turned eighteen, he moved out of his father’s house and didn’t look back. The final nail in the coffin of their relationship had been hammered shut years ago. And Jace’s career choice had just set everything on fire.

Burned it all down to the ground.

Jace had been four years old when his mother signed him up to play for his first hockey team. As for his father? Well, the good Doctor hadn’t taken his son to a single practice, nor did he go to a single game. For years Jace got to hear over and over again about what a waste of time and money the whole thing was. The only reason he was able to play after his mother died was because it was something that kept him occupied and out of the way.

It didn’t matter how successful Jace had become over the years—in his father’s eyes, he was a failure. So the very first thing Jace did when he signed his first contract was to pay back every cent to his father. He didn’t want to be indebted to the man in any way.

So yeah, there wasn’t exactly a happy family life when Jace was growing up, because there was no family. That was the status quo, one he’d gotten used to until about six years ago. It was then that Jace had been signed to the Jacksonville Stampede and before too long, he and Logan James had become really good friends. Jace had been welcomed into the James family fold and he’d spent the last six Christmases with them (along with many other holidays).

Recently though, things had started to change, as things tend to do. Everyone was settling down, getting married, and starting a family. And then there Jace was, thirty-two, unattached, and starting to feel like the odd man out…something that was exemplified by the fact that he currently wasn’t playing hockey.

No one was.

The NHL was in month three of the lockout and negotiations looked to be going nowhere fast. His frustration levels were high enough to where he thought it was best to spend this holiday season solo. As the James family was spending Christmas in Florida, he’d asked Logan if he could borrow the cabin.

So there Jace was, alone for the holidays. He’d been here for three days now, and everything was going fine…just fine.

He couldn’t ask for more when it came to the cabin itself. Built on a lake and surrounded by woods, there was a perfect view out of every single one of the floor-to-ceiling windows. It was two-thousand square feet of hardwood floors, open-beamed ceilings, a state-of-the-art kitchen (that he was still impressed with despite his limited cooking skills), a relaxing hot tub on the back porch, a massive wood-burning fireplace in the living room, and the kind of walk-in showers that would make a fancy spa envious. There was also a fully stocked bar and a theater system that made binge-watching Vikings that much more enjoyable.

The thing was—after about four seasons of the show; eating the same meal of steak, a baked potato, and a salad for dinner three nights in a row; and not talking to a single soul for hours on end—he was starting to go a little stir crazy.

He came up there to get away from everything and now he was starting to rethink that decision. The problem was, according to the current warning scrolling across the TV screen, a massive snowstorm was almost on top of him. It had been fifty-nine degrees the night before, had dropped below thirty by noon, and was now hovering somewhere in the low twenties. Whatever was rolling in promised to be intense. So unless he wanted to get stuck on the side of the road, his ass wasn’t going anywhere.

Jace looked up from where he was making his afternoon snack—a big old bowl of Life cereal—when he heard tires crunching against the gravel drive.

“Who in the world?” He asked no one as he crossed to the front door. But he knew who it was before he even got there, spotting the black Subaru Outback through one of the windows. A loud bark rent the air and, as Jace opened the door, a fifty-pound Dalmatian charged up the front steps and right to him.

“Hey, Katie girl,” Jace said as he knelt down to give her head and neck a good scratch. She licked his face before she excitedly started to circle around him, letting out a few more barks before she tore off the porch and began sniffing around the house giving it her full canine inspection.

It was then that Jace focused on the woman who was currently standing in front of the driver’s side of her car.

Adele James was a force to be reckoned with on any given day, always entirely put together with whatever she was wearing. Jace had learned long ago that her clothing was her armor, and that particular day armor was very much the operative word.

She was dressed in black from head to toe. Black scarf, black leather jacket, black jeans, black motorcycle boots with big silver buckles and zippers. Her hair was sleeked back into a ponytail, the purple streaks she’d had the last time he’d seen her were gone. She had rich, dark brown hair, and while half of it was still that color, the other half slowly transitioned to golden brown and then to honey blonde. He was long since used to her ever-changing hair colors and styles. It was the norm with her.

The rest of her armor was her big silver earrings that looked like spikes, and the diamond stud of her nose ring that glinted in the remaining light. Everything from her ramrod posture, her arms crossed over her chest, and the frown twisting her bright red lips said don’t fuck with me.

“What are you doing here?” She asked.

“Well, hello to you too.” Jace leaned against the wooden post of the porch, folding his arms across his chest.

Adele took a deep breath through her nose, nostrils flaring as her mouth got tighter. “Hello, Jace.”

“No need to ask what you’re doing here.”

The last time Jace had seen Adele had been during Thanksgiving when she brought her jackass boyfriend to meet her family. Well, he was guessing Troy was now her former jackass boyfriend.

Only a person living under a rock for the last forty-eight hours would’ve missed the blowjob seen round the world. It had been reported in almost every single news cycle Jace had watched, not to mention it was absolutely everywhere on social media.

“I told you that guy was a dick.”

“Well, congratulations, Jace,” she threw her arms in the air. “You were right. You want that engraved on a plaque or something?”

“No.” He shook his head. “You admitting I was right is reward enough.”

“Speaking of dicks…” Her golden brown eyes narrowed on him. “You still haven’t said what you’re doing up here.”

“I decided to spend the holidays by myself, or that was the plan until about three minutes ago.”

“Oh, don’t worry. Katie and I will be gone first thing in the morning.”

Jace’s eyebrows rose high on his forehead. “Del, you two aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.”

“Says who?”

“Mother Nature.”

And as if on cue, snowflakes started to fall from the sky.