It’s release day. Unwrapping Love, an anthology of 21 holiday-themed short stories, is officially available for purchase, via ebook or legit paperback. Your choice. If you were one of the lucky ones who pre-ordered it, the book is on your kindle right now, waiting for you to power up and get down to the business of reading. If you haven’t purchased it yet, you can do so here. If you want to join the Release Day Party, you can do so here. Free stuff, author takeover, and hot guy pics galore.
Not enough incentive? Okay, let me tell you about my contribution to this amazing anthology. It’s called The Perfect Christmas. Why that title? Well, initially, it’s a tongue-in-cheek title. Anna, the heroine, has, generally speaking, a pretty shitty life. Nothing goes right for her, largely because her older sister is so damn perfect, and Anna just can’t compete. So she learned long ago not to bother.
The Perfect Christmas begins just a few day before Christmas, with Anna’s sister, Jessica, more or less bullying her into babysitting, so that she and her husband can go out – separately, of course. Because that’s what they do.
Anna doesn’t really mind, though, because she utterly adores her two year old niece, and bonus when her brother-in-law’s plans get cancelled, and he ends up staying home and hanging with her and Cora. Oh, did I mention that Anna has a big fat crush on her brother-in-law?
Once Cora is asleep, things happen, and then more things happen, and… well, I’ll let you read it for yourself.
What you can’t read anywhere else is what happened last Christmas. That particular Christmas is alluded to in the beginning of The Perfect Christmas, so I thought, instead of leaving it to your imagination, I’d actually let you know what happened… Last Christmas. So here it is, the prelude to The Perfect Christmas, one year previous….
Anna hated Christmas. Mostly because of the gift-giving and the spending-time-with-family. Which, really, pretty much summed up the holiday. She didn’t even like her family, yet she felt obligated to purchase gifts and force grimace-like smiles when they opened said gifts and pretended to like them.
Usually, she plucked something from the shelves of the pharmacy where she worked. That way, she didn’t have to actually put much effort into it, and when they returned the gifts, it was a painless process, since everyone in her store knew her family. They’d come to expect her mother, shortly after New Year’s, after the crowds thinned, gift receipt and unopened package in hand. She always exchanged it for the same thing, too: vitamins or face cream on which the packaging swore it would make one look ten years younger. Her sister, Jessica, always demanded the cash, and then would scowl at the bills, presumably insulted that Anna had spent so little on her. Her dad was the only one who didn’t make an appearance, but that’s because her mom took care of that responsibility.
Jesse and Cora were the exception. She actually put forth the effort for their gifts. Anna admitted — if only to herself — that she loved to wander the aisles of Toys R’ Us, seeking the perfect gift for her perfect niece.
And then there was Jesse. She didn’t know him well, but she liked him better than anyone else in her family. Cora had been born two years ago this coming spring, and he and Jessica had gotten married pretty much the moment they figured out Jessica was pregnant. She’d met Jesse a few days before the wedding, and they’d not said two words to each other. Instead, she and Jessica had exchanged insults, which, frankly, wasn’t different from any other day of the week.
She’d known him for two years, and she genuinely liked Jesse. if she was perfectly honest with herself, she would admit that it was more than a simple like. But Anna was used to dealing with denial, so she rarely went there, even in her own mind.
Still, she wanted to buy him a gift he would appreciate, something sincere, something that said, You are important to me.
And it was exactly that theory that made the search for his gift so damn hard. Everything was too little or too much. Too personal or not enough. Too … telling of her feelings, feelings she wasn’t even ready to admit to herself, let alone the recipient.
In the end, it was Christmas Eve and she hadn’t yet found whatever the hell she had been looking for, and in an act of utter frustration, she’d snagged a hat from the very place she worked, the exact place she had no intention of buying a gift from. It wasn’t even in the seasonal section. Someone had obviously picked it up, walked around the store and then changed their mind. When she’d grabbed it, it had been stuffed on top of a shampoo bottle; clearly in the wrong place. Feeling desperate, Anna had lifted it off the bottle and strode to the check out register, using her discount and paying cash. She’d forgotten to ask for a gift receipt, but who really cared? She’d been working at this store for years. She’d probably die here, since they had a lousy retirement plan.
Jesse unwrapped the black and gray knit cap. “Cool. Thanks, Anna.” He pulled the cap out of the bag, tugged off the tag and stuffed it onto his head. “You bought me a black hat to go with my brown jacket.”
Shit. She hadn’t even thought of that. The color scheme hadn’t even occurred to her. Clearly, she was nothing like her sister. “Sorry,” she mumbled, feeling unaccountably embarrassed. “I can exchange it.”
While her sister and mother made degrading comments about her taste in head attire, Jesse smiled so brightly he could have lit the room without the help of the tree and lamp, and said, “No, it’s fine. Really. I love it.”
Was she imagining the inflection on the word love? Probably. Undoubtedly. Jesse had Jessica, and she was as perfect as it was possible for a human being to be. Anna could dream all she wanted, but the reality was, she would never be good enough for someone like her brother-in-law.
Intrigued? The Perfect Christmas is part of the Unwrapping Love anthology. It’s available now, exclusively through Amazon. You can download, or buy the real deal, and they’ll ship you a book.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about the anthology, or the Writing Wenches, ask in the comments below. Otherwise, happy reading!
PS – Stay tuned, because in a few weeks, probably shortly before Christmas, I’ll post the epilogue to The Perfect Christmas, here on my blog. The epilogue was actually supposed to be included in the story, but for one reason or another, my editor and I both decided to nix it. Well, not nix it entirely, just cut it from the anthology. Luckily, I saved the copy to my computer, and I’ll be able to share it with you all, right here. But first, I figure I’ll give you a chance to read the story. THEN you can head back over here to read my super-adorable epilogue.
And in the meantime, how about a contest? There’s a big prize involved. By big, I mean BIG. Check it out here. Good luck. and ’til next time … Read On!