Whoever invented high heels must have been a man. I mean, whom else would have decided that torture devices for the feet should be a fashion statement?
I eye the hunter green 4-inch high death traps the wardrobe assistant Maria had set before me moments earlier. "To match the mistletoe" she said in that snarky tone she seemed to reserve for just about everyone. Maybe the peppermint mocha I left in her locker might sweeten up her day.
After all, it's December first and the scent of gingerbread, peppermint, and spiced cider permeate the air. The time of year when miracles can happen and maybe, just maybe, I can save Christmas for Hollis Falls.
Slipping my feet into the tight pumps, I stand, twirling in the gilded mirror of fantasy. Because that is all I am, a painted puppet perpetuating the facade of Mr. and Ms. Mistletoe Lane.
A reflection of a stranger would seem more clear. I'm wearing enough make-up to make a clown jealous and the vintage 1930's style dress costs more than my car loan.
And worse than the cold pot of coffee my sister Staci left for me this morning...Mr. Mistletoe Lane.
Yep, the sweet talker, movie star look alike, star of my nightmares: Kaid Buchanan. Bane of my existence and holder of the title "Most Likely to Cause Aurora Calloway to commit murder."
It took all my willpower to swallow my pride and represent Hollis Falls in Before We Knew It, a reality show where couples compete for a $10,000 prize and vacation to Europe.
Susan Porter, mayor and honorary aunt, teamed up with Staci and had me guilt tripped so fast I thought I had ridden the tilt-a-wheel at the county fair.
Trade my jeans and t-shirts for a dress?
Perform like a princess?
Spend the month of December pretending to date Hollis Falls most eligible bachelor?
I'd rather share a rowboat with a shark.
But stage lights brighter than the sun and 10 crewmen following me down Main Street attest to version 2.0 of my life-where I said "yes."
The cheery red chairs and quaint wrought-iron tables outside Mellie's Dinner are like a beacon on a stormy night. Could I sneak inside and hide behind the jukebox? Don a hairnet and flip greasy burgers while sneaking crinkle fries?
Suddenly, I'm twirled around and crushed into the hard planes of a suit clad chest, a red and green holly tie dangling loosely at the neck of my nemesis.
My gaze clashes with laughing eyes, the color of the ocean during winter. Dark and demanding, almost hypnotic.
"Are you ready for dining and dancing the night away?" The words, smooth as honey, prickle my skin like cactus needles. His perpetual half-smirk makes me want to dump eggnog over his thick chestnut locks.
I snicker at the thought, blushing as Kaid watches me with knowing eyes. My futile attempts to break out of his hold only cause arms of steel to cage me closer. Scents of pinewood and bourbon tickle my nose.
"You're causing a scene Kaid," I huff, wondering why I am even trying to get away. The man lives to find ways to drive me slowly insane. "People will get the wrong idea."
My heart leaps in my chest as his laughter, deep and melodic, fills the air. I want to hate it but his laugh is perfect. Rich and decadent as my famous dark chocolate mousse cake.
Kaid pulls me forward so that we are standing under one of the old fashioned gas lamps, part of the set design to perpetuate the theme of 'love through the decades.'
A swift December wind threatens to destroy the 90 minutes of work done to create my mistletoe-dotted updo. I tilt my head forward towards his, trying to find shelter from the wind.
As I shift closer, Kaid lifts a hand and brushes my cheek, landing with his hand behind my neck. Without a moment to process, his lips are on mine and the brutal wind all but disappears.
The logical part of my brain wants to freeze and figure out what the heck is happening. The emotional part of me joins forces with my hormones and urges me to respond in kind.
Seconds, or maybe minutes, pass by like a melody seeking its home. When we pull apart I realize my hands have clinched his suit coat so tightly it now has two very large creases and a plethora of smaller wrinkles.
"Wh-what was that?" My breathless voice betrays the tambourine beat of my heart. Darn hormones.
Kaid gestures his head upwards, not ashamed to be sporting deep plum stains across his lips. "Mistletoe darlin'"
Several thoughts bombard my mind at once.
"Who the heck hangs mistletoe every ten feet? Am I now cursed to fall prey to the Buchanan charm? Thank goodness Christmas and Mistletoe go together so well.
While I can't seem to string to coherent sentences together, Kaid is perfectly fine. He keeps an arm around my waist as he leads me towards the makeshift set in Conner's Square. Waving and smiling like a game show host to every person around, Kaid appears unfazed by this sudden shift in our 'relationship.'
Tamping down the urge to stomp my foot and pout, I wrestle out of his embrace and stomp the last few feet up onto the stage. Crew members are lined up to shoot the scenes of our dancing lesson.
"Whoa, what's the rush?" Kaid finally catches up to me and pulls me to the side where some speakers and other equipment are set up. "You're frowning like you got served pea soup instead of calamari."
My lips threaten to twitch upwards at the ridiculousness of his statement. But I won't smile. I won't let him have that power over me.
Tossing my hands in the air, I move closer to step behind a divider separating the stage platform from the dance floor. "You." I cry out, poking my finger into the chest I am becoming way too fond of. "I don't understand you."
I sink onto a prop stool, wringing my hands in front of me. Voices echo across the platform but they seem to be caught in a tunnel. Unclear and tiny.
Keeling in front of me, Kaid takes my hands in his. "I'm really just a simple guy. Just opening me up and read me like a book."
His reference to my love of reading is almost sweet while confusing me anymore.
"Why are you here? Colton or Daevon could have stepped in to pretend to date me. Why you?" The words spill out, a dam broken from too much pressure building up between us.
Kaid shakes his head ruefully, long fingers wrapping my hands tighter. "Because you are Ms. Mistletoe Lane." He stares behind me into space for a moment, his brow crinkled in thought.
"I never would of pegged you for the reality show type but then Susan made that announcement at the town hall meeting...." his words drift off and we sit in silence.
Until the bubble expands and I have to break it. "The only reason I allowed myself to be made into a doll and paraded around is to save Christmas." As soon as I open up, I know I'm going to lay out the whole truth. And now, I can't seem to care that it is Kaid I'm telling first.
"When we lost the 2 factories, our whole town has hurt. Staci's bookstore, Mellie's dinner, Rick's Auto shop...they all took hard hits. If I win this, when we win this, I want to use the publicity and money to save Christmas and Hollis Falls." My eyes find the floor, unable to meet Kaid's gaze for fear of laughter or anger.
A gentle finger lifts my chin until I can't hid anymore. "Darlin', you have the biggest heart in all of Hollis Falls. But it's not your job to save everyone. Christmas is a time of miracles and community and love. It's when we shake off the chains of discontentment and live in the freedom of joy and grace. We don't have to win a reality show for Christmas to happen."
Tears begin to pour down my cheeks, a rainfall of emotion. Sadness, relief, and embarrassment pour out. Kaid pulls me close, and I lay my head on his shoulder, finding stability I had always craved yet seemed elusive.
"No matter what happens, Hollis Falls will come out for the better. We are family and no one can destroy that bond." Kaid's whispered words echo in my heart as I wipe my eyes dry.
"Well, we certainly won't be winning the 'most romantic date' award with my face looking like this now." I shake my head, pitying all of Jane's hard work to get me to look like the perfect princess but now ruined by a burst of tears.
Kaid can't contain his laughter as we stand up and he leads me back towards wardrobe. "It could be worse"
"Ha, I doubt it." My words are stern but my lips are smiling.
Kaid leans over, lips grazing my right ear. "They could have been filming. Would have made A-grade reality show drama. Hey, maybe we should do this again but with more waterworks and maybe you punching me a time or two."
Torn between annoyance and affection, I realize that by trying to save Christmas for everyone I was also searching for how to save myself.
Kaid slips his hand in mine, smiling broadly for the world to see. "You know, we really are Mr. and Ms. Mistletoe Lane. I think half the town was clapping behind your back when we kissed."
Skidding to a stop, my cheeks flame brighter than Rudolph's nose.
"They didn't..." I cringe as I think about how lovestruck I must have looked.
"Don't worry Aurora, they were just finally excited to be witnessing a Christmas miracle."
"And what miracle was that?" I ask, mystified.
Brushing my cheek with his lips, he sighs into my hair.
"You. I finally got the girl of my dreams to meet me under the mistletoe. And I hope to meet there again very soon."
And you know what...
that is exactly what Mr. and Ms. Mistletoe Lane did.