KISSES AND KITTENS IN CHRISTMAS TOWN
CHRISTMAS TOWN ROMANCE SERIES (BOOK 3)
The reception hall—filled with joyous, celebrating people, good food and carefully chosen dance music—created the perfect sequel to the ceremony. Kiley and Nick are perfect together. I used to wonder how they’d manage after Kiley earned her degree and returned to the high school full-time to do her student teaching. Nick picked up and moved. She really did get a handsome prince.
Amanda’s thoughts drifted to her other recently married friends, and she searched the room for Claire and Ben. At first, she couldn’t spot them. A frisson of worry ran through her. Oh, what if they… But then she spied the couple, dancing in a quiet, darkened corner, holding one another as if they couldn’t get close enough—not in public, anyway. As she watched, Ben dipped his head and the couple kissed—nothing passionate, but tender and sweet. A make-up kiss. Happiness bubbled inside Amanda, taking away the one speed bump in an otherwise perfect day.
A half-hour later, Nick and Kiley cut the wedding cake and fed each other small bites. Amanda saw Ben whisper to Claire and then walk to where the guests queued for cake. Scooting in next to Claire, Amanda murmured, “Looks like you and Ben have settled your differences.”
Claire’s happy expression wilted. “No. Not yet, but we’ve agreed to disagree, and we’re tabling the discussion until next weekend.”
“What’s next week—”
“That big anniversary party for his parents? I told you about it.”
“Oh yeah. I remember now.” Amanda recalled hearing about the big weekend bash. “You’ll both have a few days away from work—”
“Right. We’re taking the long weekend with his family and then we’ll add a few days to drive through New England. Most of the fall color is gone by now, but we might still catch the end of the season.” Claire shrugged. “Even if we don’t, we can use the alone time.” She glanced at Ben who was moving along the line. She frowned in a way Amanda might characterize as worry. Or maybe resentment?
“Listen, if you ever want to talk—”
“Thanks for the offer. I’ll remember that.” Claire patted Amanda’s arm, but she didn’t meet her eyes when she added, “Excuse me, please,” and moved through the crowd to join Ben in line.
Way to go, Amanda! You could have been more discreet—maybe offered to take her out for a coffee.
Emily approached with a slice of wedding cake on a silver-rimmed plate. “It’s so luscious! Would you like me to get you a piece?”
Amanda inhaled the sweet aroma. “It looks fabulous and smells even better. Is it carrot?”
“No. I asked. Mrs. Ross said it’s a raw apple cake—sort of a cross between a carrot cake and an applesauce but made with grated apples and covered in cream cheese icing. Want a bite?”
“Um, no thanks.” Amanda salivated so hard she had to swallow before she could speak. She tried to ignore her taste buds begging for a bite. “I’d love some, but if I try it…” She ended the sentence on a sigh. “You know how it is. We carboholics are better off not tasting at all.” Besides, I can hear my mother’s voice tallying the calories of just one bite and reminding me of how I’ve over-indulged my way into my present, dateless predicament. “I’m glad to see you eating, though.”
Emily shrugged. “You know how it is for me, too. I eat, but nothing changes.”
Amanda’s voice grew heavy, sardonic. “What a pair we make!”
“And always have.” Emily set her unfinished cake on a nearby table, linking her arm through Amanda’s. “I do wish I could get your mother’s voice out of your head. You have a distorted image of yourself. You are absolutely stunning, and—”
“And that’s why the men are lining up around our block.” Amanda pulled away. A wedding was the last place she wanted to talk about her weight and body issues.
“Listen, love, I don’t know why—”
“Please, Em. Can we drop it. Please?” Amanda felt tears rising. No! Not now! She took deep breaths, counting slowly to five as she inhaled, exhaling on another five counts. Her tension eased.
Emily laid her hand on Amanda’s arm. Unshed tears glistened in her eyes, too. “I’m so sorry, honey. I didn’t mean to—” She shook her head and grabbed her dessert plate. “I’ll just…uh, get this out of the way.” Emily hurried through the crowd.
Well. I sure know how to ruin a party. For myself and my BFF anyway. She looked around. The rest of the guests seemed to be enjoying themselves. At least things can’t get worse. Then she realized what was coming next.
Kiley stepped to the DJ table and took the microphone. “Hello, everyone!” When the room quieted, she said, “Thank you all for coming to celebrate with us. We’re getting ready to leave you now—”
Someone cheered and the rest of the group laughed. Kiley waited for silence. “Before we go, I want to complete my last official act of the evening. Will all the single ladies gather right here in front of the DJ table, please?”
Oh no! She’s going to throw the bouquet. Amanda scanned the room, taking in the various exits and the obstacles separating her from each. The quickest way out of here is probably—
“Emily? Amanda? Let’s have you two up here in front,” Kiley called out. “Our friend Claire doesn’t need to because she already has her happy-after-ever.” Amanda, who happened to glance at Claire, saw her tight half-smile. “Okay. Let’s make sure to have…” Kiley went on mentioning a few others by name and then repeating the call for all the single women to gather. A few good-natured shouts urged Amanda and Emily forward, along with the other single women in attendance. I guess there’s no way out of this but through. She would stand near the front as Kiley requested but she would keep her arms down and not jump for the prize. Of all the single women here, I’m the least likely to be the next happy bride.
Dr. Marco Fuentes had his eye on the tall blonde at the same moment the bride called her name. He saw the instant when panic crossed her face, though she quickly composed herself. So that’s Amanda. Or Emily. One of the two, anyway. I wonder why she looks so panicked. I hope she’s all right.
Truth be told, he’d had his eye on her all evening, appreciating the way the soft fabric of her pink gown draped over those luscious curves. Like a film star from the 1950s. He seldom found time for movies of any sort, but both his parents were fans of classic Hollywood movies. Marco had seen many of their favorite old films when he was growing up.
She’s like a Marilyn Monroe or a Sophia Loren. Truly stunning. Few women look like that anymore… Maybe his idea of the perfect woman had been shaped by those same movies starring the glamour queens of Hollywood’s earlier days, or maybe by repeatedly hearing his dad complain about why modern women were forever on diets.
While his medical training cheered the emphasis on health, he also knew that a healthy diet and regular exercise did not always transform to what current standards of society deemed the perfect silhouette. His gaze was captured once more by the crowd of young women readying for the bouquet toss. The bridesmaid dressed in gray stepped in beside the voluptuous blonde. She was very pretty with dark hair and eyes, but her delicate, almost frail-looking shoulders and thin arms told him she was clearly, medically underweight. He hoped she was under the care of a good doctor.
The bride turned her back and pumped her arms up and down a couple of times in deliberate false starts to build excitement. The wedding guests cheered and applauded at the show. On the third pump, when she finally tossed the bouquet, she seemed to have a specific target in mind. The bouquet flew straight toward the beautiful blonde, who kept her arms down and agilely side-stepped the flowers soaring her way. The bridesmaid in gray, on the other hand, jumped to catch the bouquet, but the tips of her fingers deflected it.
The crowd gasped as the bouquet toss seemed doomed to fail, and then the tall blonde stretched in a lightning-reflex lunge and caught the flowers before they hit the floor. When she straightened, bouquet in arms, a look of distress flickered over her features once more.
The bride turned, but not in time to see that flash of panic. “Congratulations, Amanda!” She cheered. “You’re the next bride!”
Everyone applauded, except for a grumpy woman who stood in front and grumbled, “I never get the flowers.” Others nearby congratulated the blonde, whose smile seemed a tad anxious. “I’ll just go put these in some water,” she said, hurrying from the room.
Amanda. Her name is Amanda. Marco lingered near the doorway, sipping a mineral water with lime, waiting for the blonde to reappear so he could ask her to dance before the celebration wound down for the night.
But she never returned. Marco knew, because he waited until almost everyone else had left.