The Christmas Truce
CHAPTER ONE – PENELOPE
“Are you sure you don’t mind?” Mila, my best friend since I moved to Piney Grove in the fourth grade asks me, a dubious look pinching her delicate features.
“Positive.” I nod once.
She studies me, looking for any hint of deception. The two of us couldn’t be any more different—where she’s tall, lean, and fit, I’m fun-sized with a little fluff around the middle. I’m quiet and organized to a fault, while she’s wild. Seriously, everywhere we go, Mila Devine is the life of the party and I’m content to blend into the upholstery.
“Do you have everything you need?”
“You know she fucking does,” Olivia, the third pea in our eclectic pod, says as she joins us in the foyer of the house we all share together.
“She’s right.” I push my non-existent glasses up my nose—at this point, I don’t think I’ll ever adjust to the contact lenses these two talked me into. “I have decorations, snacks, drinks, games, a few movies, and I plan to get groceries for Christmas brunch once I’m there.” I tap my chin, trying to think of anything I might be missing. “Oh, and Lysol spray and wipes, because you can never be too safe.”
I conveniently leave out the spare sheets and towels I packed for myself.
My two best friends exchange knowing glances, likely already well aware of my packed linens.
But it’s Olivia who speaks up. “You sure you don’t want us to grab groceries when we come up?” She tucks a strand of vibrant turquoise hair behind her ear. Livvy’s the rebel of our group—feisty and outspoken, with the mouth of a sailor.
I shake my head. “It’s fine. I want to make sure everything’s—”
“Perfect,” they both say in unison, grinning wildly.
My heart warms, but I roll my eyes, not wanting to seem quite so soft. “If you stay prepared, you don’t have to get prepared,” I swear, I say those words so often they might as well be my unofficial catchphrase.
If my parents ever taught me anything, it’s that life is easier when you’re prepared—which they never were. They lived for fun, and unfortunately, more often than not, their fun came at the expense of, well… everything else.
When given the choice between paying the utilities and a case of beer—let’s just say it was Miller time.
Their life philosophy was: live fast and die young. A feat they both accomplished when they wrapped their car around a tree after closing down the bar when I was seventeen.
Their utter lack of responsibility is one-hundred-and-ten percent why I am the way I am—uptight, overly organized, and highly prepared.
Mila brushes her hand against my arm, drawing me back to the present. “Seriously Pen, we don’t mind helping.”
“I know you don’t.” I inhale deeply, holding the air in my lungs, before slowing exhaling. “But I like doing this. If it weren’t for y’all, I’d be all alone.”
Both of my roommates roll their eyes. “It’s mutual, babe,” Olivia says. “If not for each other, we’d all be alone.”
She’s not wrong either—the fact that we’re all basically on our own is why our group of misfits works so well, the guys included.
Mila and Mason have been dating since high school, and I swear, no two people on this earth are more perfect for each other than they are.
Olivia and Rome spent years denying their attraction, until one night, they both just decided to say, and I quote, ‘fuck it.’ Apparently, all it took was one night of filthy sex for them to realize they were meant to be.
Then there’s Lucas. The bane of my existence. He came as a package deal with Mason and Rome, having known them both since they were in diapers. The girls like to joke that we’re next—over my cold, dead body.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s good-looking. Gorgeous even, but he’s the definition of an entitled lazy man-child. The jackass wouldn’t know responsibility if it walked up and slapped him in the face.
“Love y’all. See you tomorrow night!” I murmur, forcing thoughts of Lucas out of my brain.
“Love you too.” Olivia moves past me to open the front door.
Mila follows me onto the front porch. “Drive safe—it looks like it might rain.”
“I will,” I promise, climbing behind the wheel of my sensible—i.e., cheap—’98 Corolla. The thing is nearly as old as me, but it runs and gets me from point A to point B reliably.
Most of the time.
With one last wave, I plug the address into my phone’s GPS and back down the driveway.
Two hours later, I’m pulling up to the cabin we rented for the weekend. From the outside, it’s every bit as charming as the listing boasted.
The wooden exterior is stained a rich chestnut color, and the red front door is perfectly cheery. The only thing out of place is the absurdly expensive crotch rocket parked haphazardly at the top of the driveway.
Maybe the owner stopped by… Or the cleaning company is running behind? A million justifications for the unexplained motorcycle cross my mind.
I clutch my phone in my hands, waffling between calling the cops and the rental company as I exit my car and climb the steps.
However, before I can hit dial, the front door swings open, bringing me face-to-face with my worst nightmare—Lucas-freaking-Nelson.
He rakes his gaze over me as a lazy grin curls his way-too-lush-for-a-man lips. “Good, you’re finally here.”
“Why are you?” I ask, followed by, “And what do you mean finally?” I glance down at my watch. “I’m exactly on time.”
“Don’t you always say on time is late?” He fires back, one brow raised.
I rear back, unable to hide my shock.
His grin morphs into a self-satisfied smirk. “Don’t look so surprised Penny. I only tune out half of what you say.”
“It’s Penelope.” I cross my arms over my chest and glare. “And half?”
“I know, I know.” Lucas shakes his head and shrugs. “Half might be generous. You tend to get a little high-horsed when you’re on a know-it-all tangent.”
With every word that passes his stupidly kissable lips, my anger rises.
“Why are you even here?” I ask, barely stifling the urge to stamp my foot like a child throwing a tantrum.
“Isn’t it obvious?”
The look on his face says it should be, but the only thing jumping out at me is my rapidly growing annoyance. “If you could kindly spare us both the headache and use your big boy words, it would be much appreciated.”
He rolls his eyes. “I’m here to make sure this trip is actually fun.”
“Excuse me?” I whisper, even though I really want to yell.
“You heard me.” He lifts his chin toward me in that stupid way only hot guys do. “If I left you to your own devices, we would probably spend the weekend playing board games and roasting s’mores while watching some Hallmark shit.”
Every word out of his mouth hits me like a well-aimed dart, because I did come armed with an itinerary, games, snacks, and two feel-good holiday flicks.
“Thought so.” His eyes crinkle at the corners as he chuckles silently at me. “C’mon, killjoy. Let’s get jolly and tag team this so we’re not all miserable the entire trip.”
Tears sting the backs of my eyes as he turns and stalks back into the cabin.
I give myself a moment to regain my composure before following after him. This pompous jackass wants me to doubt myself. He wants me to doubt my friendships.
The joke’s on him though, because if there’s one thing on this earth I’ll never question, it’s Mila and Livvy’s love for me.
Once I’m positive I’m not going to cry or beat him with the roll of wrapping paper in my trunk, I follow after him.
Inside, I find him sprawled across the couch like he doesn’t have a care in the world—which is fitting because he truly doesn’t. Lucas is the very picture of privilege.
“Took you long enough,” he drawls, once again eyeing me up and down.
Raising my fingers to my temples, I press inward, trying—unsuccessfully—to massage away the headache taking up residence between my eyes. “Listen, I know you think I’m some wet blanket who doesn’t know how to have fun—”
“Your words,” he cuts in.
He leans forward, propping his elbows on his knees. “I never said you were a wet blanket who doesn’t know how to have fun. Those are your words, not mine.”
“Lucas!” I groan his name, hating the way he’s able to get under my skin so easily.
“Say it again.”
“What?” I blink twice, trying to figure out what he wants me to repeat.
“My name.” He licks his lips. “But maybe a little slower this time. Sexier.”
A mixture of anger and embarrassment—okay fine, and maybe a little lust—ignite a scorching burn in my cheeks.
“You perv! Just let me say what I need to say. Please?”
He rolls his eyes. “Fine. Continue.”
“Thank you.” Ugh. I just thanked this jerk-face for letting me talk. Get it together, Penelope! “As I was saying, I know you think I’m lame, but Mila and Olivia tasked me with planning this weekend because they trust me. And while I’m…” I trail off, trying to find the right word for how I feel about him being here to help, because thankful definitely isn’t it.
“You’re what?” he asks, tipping his head to the side, studying me.
“Let’s just agree to be civil and make the best of things until everyone else gets here tomorrow?”
Lucas straightens, his eyes sharpening as he regards me, much the way a predator would its prey.
My entire body tightens as if preparing for a fight. He stands and takes a step toward me. I want so badly to retreat, but I force myself to hold my ground.
With one last lingering look, he nods. “I guess I can manage that.”
My entire body sags with relief. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.
“Okay. Good. Great.” I smooth my hands over the front of my cozy sweatpants. “Want to help me unload my trunk?”
“Not really.” He crosses the room toward the door. “But I will.”
CHAPTER TWO – LUCAS
I watch, as if in a trance, as Penny leans over the trunk, her delectable ass on display.
The woman is a fucking ten and doesn’t have a clue.
Pretty sure that’s half of her appeal though. She’s cluelessly sexy. A temptress without even trying.
“Are you just going to stand around or are you going to help me?”
Yeah… her smart mouth’s definitely the other half. Every sassy comeback only serves to make my dick hard.
“Just waiting on you, Princess Penny.”
She huffs, and even though I can’t see her face, I can imagine the look on it—her brows are drawn tight and her lips pressed into a flat line. It’s the same expression she wears any time I open my mouth.
Straightening, she turns to face me. “Don’t call me that.”
Instead of replying, she glares.
Sidling up beside her, I intentionally brush my shoulder against hers as I lean over the trunk. Jesus, she has this thing jam-packed. I bet the bumper dragged the whole way here.
I grab as many bags as I can carry and haul them into the house, dropping them unceremoniously onto the rug.
“Oh, my God!” she shrieks. “Be careful!”
“What?” I look around, trying to find the risk and coming up empty. “Why?”
“You could break something!”
My lips twitch. “Is anything in there breakable, pretty Penny?”
Her shoulders sag. “No, but—”
“Figured as much.” I head back toward the door. “Come on. Let’s finish before the sky falls.”
She steps out onto the porch and looks up at the sky, which is getting darker by the minute. “The forecast only called for light rain.”
Moving in close behind her, I brush her hair off of her neck, momentarily frozen by her sweet vanilla scent, before whispering, “Looks like Channel Five got it wrong.”
She shivers against me before shaking out of my hold.
But her prickliness doesn’t deter me—if anything it only eggs me on. Turns me on too. “Now come on, Princess, or we’ll both be wet.”
It takes a second for my implication to hit, and when it does, Penny’s cheeks light up redder than Rudolph’s nose. “Are you saying…” She crosses her arms over her ample chest and stomps her foot, making her breasts jiggle. “I am not!”
I grin and heft two bags out of her trunk. “I’d tell you to prove it, but we both know you earned the nickname Prude Penny fair and square.”
Her lower lip wobbles, and for a brief second, I worry I’ve gone too far, but then she squares her shoulders and marches toward me, her lips curled in an angry snarl.
“Jealousy doesn’t become you.” She looks me up and down, and if it weren’t for the heat still warming her cheeks, I’d worry she found me lacking.
A joke sits on the tip of my tongue, but I swallow it down, knowing if I make any sort of ejaculation reference, she just might actually kill me. And she’s maybe a little bit right too—I am jealous.
The thought of another man’s hands on her is enough to send me into a rage. Luckily, as far as I know, she’s only had one serious relationship. A real fucking douchebag named Max, who popped her cherry and then bailed.
From what Mason said—gossip courtesy of Mila—the sorry sack of shit lasted less than five minutes and nutted long before she could even think of coming. Pathetic.
Can’t really say I blame her for not wanting to give it up to any jackass who smiles her way—myself included, but I also can’t deny that if given the chance, I would feast on her pussy like it’s Christmas dinner.
So yeah, I’m jealous, sue me.
Right as she grabs the last bag, thunder booms and lightning illuminates the swirling clouds overhead.
Penny screeches and makes a run for it, leaving me to close her trunk, despite my hands being full. I manage to make it to the relative safety of the porch before the sky falls.
“Wow,” she murmurs, her index finger idly rubbing her lower lip. “It’s really coming down.”
“It’s supposed to get worse,” I tell her, setting everything down in the entryway before pulling the door shut behind me.
“Really?” Her brows slant down in disbelief. “But the weather…”
Another crash of thunder sounds, this one loud enough to rattle the cabin walls.
“Penny, meteorology isn’t an exact science. They got it wrong. Now, let’s get this stuff put away, get something to eat, and hope like hell the power doesn’t go out.”
Her eyes round. “Surely there’s a generator.”
I shrug. She’s probably right—a house like this most likely has an automatic one that runs the whole house. God knows, they can afford it given the amount we’re all paying to stay here.
She rolls her eyes at my lack of response and I can’t help but smirk, because I really am dammed if I do and if I don’t with her.
Not one to miss anything, she narrows her eyes at me. “Why does your face look like that?”
“Like what?” I ask, swiping my tongue over my lower lip. “Ruggedly handsome?”
“Smug. Like you know something I don’t and I just…” She huffs and shakes her head. “You know what? Never mind. Let’s just get this stuff unloaded. We have a lot to do before everyone else gets in tomorrow.”
“We, you say? I take a step closer to her, dropping the bags I was still holding unceremoniously at my feet.
“I may not want you here—”
“Fucking ouch, Princess. You wound me.”
She carries on like I didn’t even speak, like she didn’t just totally cut me down with that sharp tongue of hers. “But I’m not going to turn away your help. At the very least, you can do the heavy lifting.”
“Heavy… lifting?” I ask, raising my brows.
“The lights aren’t going to hang themselves. I also need to wrap gifts and prep the food for Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day brunch. Tell me, Lucas, have you ever trimmed a turkey?”
Is she fucking serious? I cross my arms over my chest and ask her exactly that. “Are you fucking serious?”
She smiles sweetly—and it’s a trap if I’ve ever seen one. “Deadly serious. I meant it when I said I wanted this to be perfect and you can either help me or get the hell out of my way.”
“Did you just cuss?” Amusement colors my tone, but she just glares. “Forget it. Lead the way, Power Trip Penelope.”