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Chapter One Sample:
This wasn’t happening.
“Please, Noelle,” my best friend begged, pressing her palms together in manipulation. “He’s all alone.”
Why couldn’t she have asked me to do something less torture filled? Like volunteer at the North Pole to clean up after Mrs. Clause’s secret elf sex party Christmas night when Mr. Clause was out showering us with gifts. Oh, if those walls could talk …
“You’ve got to do it,” she continued, laying it on so thickly her lips looked like a shiny puckered asshole as she pouted and pleaded. “Could you imagine him all by himself alone on Christmas Eve?”
This so was not happening.
I closed my eyes, hoping the sight of her pleading gone would give my lips the power to say what I needed to say. “No.”
“Why not?” she demanded, tone heavy, genuinely pissed.
Winter rarely got upset. It was one of the things I loved about her. I was always upset, for this or that, and her lack of negative emotions balanced out all of mine. But I didn’t care this time. No way in hell was I driving up to hang out with her father on Christmas Eve. No way.
“I have something to do.”
“No, you don’t. You’re going to go to a hotel and stuff your face in front of the TV doing nothing like you always do Christmas Eve. Wallowing in self-pity and snacking on regret. I have to be with my Mom tonight. But I can’t leave my dad alone. He practically raised you, Noelle.”
That was the problem.
My disgusting horrible secret.
I’d known Winter since I was thirteen. We’d become best friends within seconds of meeting one another. She was smiling and I was scowling—nothing had changed. At twenty-one, we were both home from college for winter break. Her parents had gotten a divorce over the summer. It destroyed my best friend, who stored hopes that her parents would reconcile.
I didn’t maintain that hope. I couldn’t.
Not when I was in love with Micha Santa. Who just so happened to be my best friend’s father. A man I’d lived, eat, and breathed for since I was thirteen. Winter would disown me, write me off, and ruin what was left of my heart if she knew. She’d never understand.
I kept my feelings inside, like the disgusting secret they were. I never spoke a word to anyone, especially not to Mr. Santa or his daughter.
I couldn’t go to his place alone on Christmas Eve. It would be torture on life-threatening levels. Like most with an addiction, I had no control. To stare at his beautiful handsome face all night, to hear his deep rough voice, to smell his thick intoxicating cologne—I’d never make it out of there the same.
“They didn’t have to take you in,” she continued. I’d obviously hit a sore button and her spewing went on and on as I pulled up outside of her mom’s house. “You were an orphan!” she exploded, smacking at my thigh. “My mom and dad took you in.”
I stared out the frosted window, remembering that day rather than give in to her tirade. I’d been emptied the moment my father decided I was too much trouble. Mom abandoned me years before. Dad hung on for as long as he could. I guessed training bras and puberty was too much for him. Winter and I went to the same middle school. She’d found me on the swings crying. She approached me with a smile, and our friendship became the realest thing in my life.
In seconds, we were one. It was those kinds of relationships, ones that existed because they had to, that lasted for me.
My sadness clung to her happiness, creating a tenuous line to straddle as I went through life beside her. I’d never had gotten where I was, without her parents taking me in. I graduated high school, unpregnant might I add. A feat my mother and hers hadn’t accomplished. I’d gotten into college with Winter, and together we were going to become the best damn nurses in the world. She comforted and I didn’t mind blood. Her gentleness counteracted my ability to forge through the painful shit emotionless.
I owed my life to her.
And unfortunately to her father and mother too.
“How long do I have to stay with him?” I didn’t remove my gaze from the window, watching the snow fall onto the dark road. I was glad I’d paid the campus guard to put my snow chains on before Winter and I headed home this morning.
She sighed in acute relief. “Christmas Eve and Christmas. You should stop and buy him a gift too. You know he loves that fudge you make. Two days, Noelle. And then we can both hang out here all break. Hot chocolate, comfy blankets, and Netflix. Please do this for me. Mom’s taking it so hard, and Dad can pretend he isn’t, but we both know he’s a hard guy to get through to.”
Two days with him? My heart hammered and my palms dampened. I’d burn alive being that close to him. “What if he doesn’t want me there? He let me live with you, but he never really made an effort to be approachable. We weren’t friends.”
Mr. Santa was a tortured man. His two tours of active duty in Iraq had left him a different man when he came home. It had been a downward spiral I’d witnessed from afar, unable to comfort him in any way. Winter and I had college. We couldn’t stay home and help her parents. Our scholarships would have gone to someone else. Plus, she was right. Micha was stone. He was always hard, but when he came home from war, he was impenetrable. Scarred.
He broke my heart.
I didn’t want that hurt for him. I wanted him to find some sort of peace, but getting a divorce from his wife wasn’t going to get him there. I could only imagine the dark places he existed within right now.
Maybe checking up on him wouldn’t be such a horrible thing. It would hurt later, it would ruin me. Like every time I saw him. But sometimes our hurt had to be forgotten for the hurt of others. There were only two people in the world I cared about. Winter and Micha. I’d never get him, I accepted that, had never entertained the possibility other than in my wet dreams. But I had Winter. I couldn’t leave her like this. Worrying about her father while she was with her mother. She had always been a momma’s girl.
Mr. Santa hadn’t been the hugging I love you type. But he was strong, fierce, loyal and protective. He did what he had to do to take care of his family. The idea of him all alone with nothing but his pain made my heart ache for him.
“He doesn’t want anyone there. You won’t make a difference in that regard. But keeping him from the edge is all I ask for. Grandma’s worried about him. Said he took his safe with him up to the cabin.”
Two things occurred to me.
One, that safe had his guns in it.
And two, she never mentioned the cabin in her pleading until now.
“His guns?” I whispered, horrified.
“Yeah. He said he wanted to have them because of the wolves that live around the cabin, but she didn’t make it sound that way. He’s struggling by himself, Noe. He needs the little bit of family he has left. Eric’s all the way in L.A. visiting colleges, but we both know he never really cared about anyone but himself. I’ll be with Mom. All Dad really has is you. Please do this for me? Please.”
The pain in her voice mixed with my fear. Micha alone, lost, miserable and broken, with a stash of guns in his cabin. A cabin, might I add, Winter purposely didn’t mention before she laid on the guilt trip.
“Winter,” I groaned, meeting her cool baby blues. She looked like her mother. Fair and beautiful. This was all an act at this point. There was no way I’d leave him on his own in his state. Even if his absence burned me later, I’d endure the singed parts of my heart. “Okay,” I whispered. “I’ll endure this the way I endure all of your plans. With anger and disgust.”
“Thank you, Noe.” She leaned her head against her seat. “I’ll owe you.”
She had no idea.
I was going to drag her to every party, get her wasted, and accidently take her Louboutin pumps and never give them back. After all, she was asking me to widen the scars on my heart. The ones that had surfaced the day I realized I loved a man I could never have.
“Get out. I have to leave now if I want to beat the storm.” I glared at her beautiful face, giving her knee a smack as she grinned at me.
“I know you don’t want to hear this, but it’s Christmas, and I love you. You’re my best friend, my sister. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” She hugged me to her, pressing a glossy kiss to my cheek. “Call me, and take my credit card.” She dug it from her clutch, handing me the card her father had given her for emergencies. “Good thing I packed you a secret bag.” With a naughty little wink, she got out, pulling her luggage from the back seat on her way.
I looked in the back and glared at the leopard printed bag behind her seat. I hadn’t noticed her put it in my car. I pulled on the zipper, finding it full of warm clothes and food.
I rolled down my window and growled. “Sneaky, whore, slutty, bitch ass tramp!” I hissed, pulling the luggage closed with an angry snarl as she quickly slipped inside with a giggle.
Putting my car in drive, I sped in the snow away from my best friend’s house, and instead, sped toward her father’s cabin.
Whom I loved.
Whom I could never have.
Whom would leave me as empty and scarred as he was this Christmas.
“Merry Christmas,” I said to myself, the dark silver sky pouring snow down on me.