My Christmas Charade is a new romance which has tropes like a fake relationship, hate to love, and enemies to lovers. Em Davis’s life plan includes marriage and children—even if there’s no groom on the horizon. One roadblock is her parents, who have rejected her last two boyfriends. Em decides to bring home someone they’ll hate to clear the way for her next real boyfriend. Ian Reid fits the bill. He’s sexist, foul-mouthed, and uncouth. She bribes him with tickets to Maple Leafs hockey game and they’re off to Toronto for Christmas with her family.
This excerpt takes place on Christmas Day. So far, Em’s plan is not working, and she invites Ian for a walk, so they can speak privately.
As soon as we got outside, I hit him with the problem. “It’s not working. My parents actually like you.”
“Well, Ms. Anal-list, I guess you can’t predict everything. I never thought this was going to fly.”
“You didn’t?” Then why did he even come?
“You can’t force people to do what you want ’em to. Sometimes you have to roll with life.”
“But what are we going to do?”
“We? I’m doing my part,” Ian said. “And I’m only here for the Leafs game anyway.”
“Maybe you could act worse. Why are you being so helpful?”
He blew out a breath. “I hate sitting around doing nothing. I didn’t know if you were going to sleep all day.”
I hated doing nothing too. It was disconcerting to find out we had things in common. “I don’t understand this. When I brought Todd home, they treated him like the Antichrist.”
“Was Todd the ambulance chaser or the drug dealer?”
“Todd was the lawyer. Ben was the pharmaceutical rep. Wait, how do you know who I dated?”
Ian shrugged. “I dunno. Musta been when you and Abby were gabbing on about your love life.”
Ian gave me a sidelong glance. “I know why your plan isn’t working.”
“Because you’re not acting crazy enough about me.”
“What are you talking about? I’m pretending to be your girlfriend. That’s already a sign of insanity,” I said.
“Your parents aren’t dummies. They can see you’re not really into me, so they aren’t going to bother warning you off.”
“How am I not acting into you?”
The corners of Ian’s mouth turned up. “You’re not affectionate with me. You don’t do any special shit for me. You don’t praise me. And who tells their parents that we have to have separate bedrooms because I snore?”
“It was the best excuse I could think of. You certainly don’t look like someone of high principles who won’t have premarital sex.”
“Got that right,” Ian replied.
“So, you’re saying if this plan doesn’t work, it’s my fault?” I said.
“You said be myself. I’ve done that.”
I scowled. “Wait. This isn’t a trick to get some, is it?”
“Am I going to get some?” Ian asked.
“Of course not. A fake relationship is by definition not the same as a real one.”
“Whatever, princess. Let’s go back. I told your dad I’d give him a hand with dinner.”
I’d already gone to all this trouble and spent over a thousand bucks on hockey tickets. And now I had to act more affectionate to Ian? All right. I could do this. Just two more days, and some of that time would be spent sleeping.
“Okay, I’ll be nicer. Let’s walk back holding hands.” Ian’s large gloved hand enveloped mine in a very pleasant way, but I ignored that sensation.
When we got home, there was panic in the air.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
My mother was running around with two plastic buckets and my father was cursing in the kitchen. He was normally very laid back, so cursing meant a crisis-level problem. “The goddamn sink has backed up. Today of all days. I can’t even get hold of a plumber.”
Mom added, “Well, strictly speaking, Ronald, it’s not an emergency. Flooding is an emergency.”
“Cooking dinner for twenty people without a working sink is a goddamn emergency,” he growled.
“Well, maybe we can ask a neighbour if…” Mom’s voice faltered. All our neighbours would be in the midst of their own Christmases.
Ian had the flashlight of his phone on, and he was looking into the murky water in the sink. Then he opened up the cupboard door and looked underneath.
“Pretty old drains you got here.” He pulled off his sweater and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. “Let me take a look.”
“Do you think you can fix it?” my mother asked.
“I’ll give ’er a go. Em, can you help me?”
I agreed and was immediately assigned to do the most disgusting job: scooping all the yucky water out of the sink. As I went in and out of the kitchen, I heard Ian asking Dad about pliers, a plunger, and—a snake? What on earth would he do with a snake? Our next-door neighbour was called, and soon Ian had all the tools he required to get to work.
Dad took his food prep to the dining room table, while I hovered and handed tools to Ian who was lying underneath the sink.
There was something attractive about Ian being able to fix things. When my dad or Lucas tried to repair anything, there was a lot of tension and complaining. But judging from the whistling, Ian was enjoying himself.
I stared down at his headless body. He was wearing a beige shirt, faded jeans, and a brown leather belt. The bottom of his shirt gaped enough that I could see a thin line of hair there. And there was this bulge in his jeans that—
“Em. Snake, please.” Ian’s voice broke into my imaginings.
The snake had turned out to be metal rather than some grease-eating boa constrictor, and I handed it over. “How’s it going?” I asked.
He rolled out from under the sink and smiled. “Good. A bunch of stuff went wrong at the same time. I’ve fixed it for now, but your parents should probably replace the P-trap soon.”
“P-trap. That’s funny.”
“See, I use language you don’t understand too,” said Ian.
“You’ve got grease on your cheek.” I reached up to brush off a smudge on Ian’s face. I felt the contrast of his soft skin and the bristly stubble. He caught my wrist and stared. His eyes seemed to be asking an important question. But what was it?
Just then my mother walked in, and I jumped away from him.
“How’s the repair going, Ian?” she asked.
“All done,” he replied.
Mom enthusiastically celebrated the miracle of water draining as it was supposed to. “Thank you so much. Oh no, your shirt is filthy now. I was going to do a wash anyway. Why don’t you let me do that too?”
Ian wiped his hands on a towel. “Actually, if you could do my jeans too, that would be great. I packed pretty light.”
“Of course. Anything you need. You really saved our Christmas.”
He went upstairs to get changed. I helped Dad bring all the food back to the kitchen.
“Isn’t it amazing that Ian was able to fix the sink?” asked my mother.
“He’s very mechanically gifted,” agreed my dad.
I gritted my teeth.
“Emerald, can you bring Ian’s clothes down to the laundry room for me?”
I ran up the two flights of stairs and tapped on Ian’s door. It was slightly ajar, and my knocking opened it further. Ian was standing there in a pair of sweatpants. Only sweatpants. His bare chest was sculpted like a Greek statue and his shoulders were vast. His arms were curved pockets of muscle overlaid with blue veins and prominent tendons.
“I came for your pants,” I blurted.
“Been waiting to hear that.”
He held out his jeans and shirt but didn’t move. I stumbled into his room and tried to grab the clothes, but he didn’t let go.
Our eyes met. We were so close, and he was so… almost naked.
I swallowed. “The sooner you let go, the sooner you get clean jeans.”
Ian smiled. “What are you afraid of, princess?”
You. Whoever you are. But I didn’t say a word.
Hmmm, is something burning or is there some suppressed sexual tension here?
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Em needs a horrible fake boyfriend.
For Em Davis, planner extraordinaire, life should run as smoothly as her economic forecasts. She’s got a checklist for the perfect boyfriend, and now she’s met Thomas, who ticks off all the boxes. The only problem is her parents keep rejecting her new men. But she has a solution: she’ll bring home someone so offensive that Thomas will shine in comparison.
Ian Reid is the right man for this role. He’s a foul-mouthed jerk who insults her each time they meet. How hard could it be to spend three days over Christmas with a sexist lunkhead to teach her picky parents to quit interfering with her love life?
What Em hasn’t calculated is that there’s a whole other side to this sexy ex-pro hockey player. Because the best Christmas presents are surprises.
Note: A shorter version of this story was published as Her Best Worst Boyfriend. The new book is double the length of the original. (That’s what she said!)
In addition to this wonderful prize from Mia, and in celebration of the Festive season, I, Nix, will be giving away a £25/$30 voucher for a book retailor of choice across the event. Each comment, on ANY post, will be classed an entrance; just fill in the Rafflecopter at the bottom. You can enter once a day.a Rafflecopter giveaway