Ring in the Holidays with Excerpts from Festive Reads by Bestselling Authors Rainbow Rowell, Suzanne Redfearn, J. Courtney Sullivan, and Chandler Baker
After a long, lonely year, two people stumble toward each other in If the Fates Allow a holiday short story by Rainbow Rowell the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Eleanor & Park and Fangirl.
Reagan crept to the side to get a closer look. It looked like the deer had managed to snag its foot between two crossbars and a small tree that was growing right next to the fence.
Mason was still inching toward it, with his hands out.
“What are you doing?” Reagan asked again.
“I’m going to help it get free.”
“It’ll get itself free.”
“I don’t think it will. It’s wedged pretty good.”
The deer broke into frantic movement, struggling against the fence. “It’s going to injure itself,” Mason said.
“It’s going to injure you.”
This wasn’t a fawn or a hungry little doe; the deer was as long as Reagan was tall—it must have weighed two hundred pounds.
“Shhhh,” Mason was saying. Maybe to the deer, maybe to Reagan. He was crouching behind it, which seemed like the dumbest decision in the world.
“Mason,” Reagan whispered.
“It’s all right,” he said, reaching for the trapped hoof. “Her other legs are on the other side of the fence.”
“I think that’s a buck.”
“She’s not a buck, look at her head.”
The deer struggled again. Mason froze. Reagan took another anxious step toward them.
When the deer stilled, Mason shot forward. He bent the tree back and grabbed the trapped hoof, lifting it free.
The deer pulled the leg forward—and in the same motion, kicked its other hind leg through the fence, catching Mason in the chest.
“Oof,” he said, falling backward.
The deer ran away, and Reagan ran to Mason. “Jesus Christ!” she shouted. “I told you!”
Mason was lying on his back in the snow. Reagan went down on her knees beside him. “Are you okay?” she asked, touching his arm.
His eyes were wide. “I’m fine,” he said. “Just surprised. Is she okay?”
“She’s fine,” Reagan said. “She’ll live to spread ticks and disease, and destroy crops. Where’d she get you?”
He pointed to his shoulder.
“Can you move it?”
He rotated his shoulder. He was broader than he looked from a distance. Broad even under his coat. His neck was thick, and one of his ears was partly inverted, probably from an old injury. He had snow in his ears and his hair. His hair was much darker than Reagan’s, almost black.
“Did you hit your head?” she asked.
“No. I think I’m okay.”
“That was so stupid, Mason—that could have been your face.”
“I think I’m okay,” he repeated. He lifted his head up out of the snow and pushed up onto his elbows.
Reagan moved away from him.
He stood up, so she stood up, too.
“That could have been your neck,” she said. “That was so stupid.”
“Okay,” he said, nodding. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
Reagan’s heart was still pounding. Mason looked worried. There was snow on his glasses, and his mask had fallen below his nose. He was holding her arm. “I’m sorry, okay? Are you hurt?”
“No,” Reagan said. “I’m just . . .”
Mason was holding her arm. He was standing right next to her.
Reagan made a fist in the suede collar of his coat and pulled herself closer to him.
His head dipped forward, more fiercely than she was expecting, to kiss her.
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From Suzanne Redfearn, the bestselling author of In an Instant, comes a heartfelt short story about one couple’s journey to discover if there really is a secret ingredient to happily ever after before their upcoming holiday wedding in The Marriage Test.
The server appears. “Something to drink with dinner?”
“Do you have a white burgundy?” I ask, feeling like something bright to match my mood.
The server points to the French section of the wine list.
“Oh,” I say, as the list is limited and pricey. “I only want a glass. I’ll just take a—”
“A bottle of the finest white burgundy you have,” Justin interrupts.
He waves me off.
The server leaves, and I lean in to kiss him. “I love you.”
“For ordering a bottle of wine?”
“For ordering a bottle of wine to make me happy.”
I sit back again, and he returns his hand to my knee. “Good evening.”
I look up, and my breath catches. Standing a foot from our table is Annabelle Winters, my chef idol since college. She’s five feet tall with narrow shoulders and wide hips. Curls of wild black hair escape her white cap, flour dusts her black chef coat, and in her hands is a cutting board with a round loaf of bread.
“I understand tonight is a special occasion,” she says, a Mediterranean accent rounding the words. I tilt my head as Justin nods. “In my home country, we have a tradition: remarkable moments are celebrated by the breaking of bread. So, I made this loaf specially for you.” She sets the board on the table, wisps of steam spiraling from the golden, flaky crust. “This is pogača, the bread of my childhood and a symbol of love.”
With a small bow, she pivots away.
“That . . .that was . . .I can’t believe it . . .that was Annabelle Winters.”
Justin smiles wide, a proud grin that crinkles his cheeks. “You told her it was a special occasion?”
“It is,” he says. “We are together.”
I look at the loaf. “Wow. Pogača. My grandmother told me about this bread. It doesn’t use eggs or milk, and it’s cooked on a hearth over an open fire.”
“It’s still warm,” he says. “It must have just come out of the oven.”
I lift it to my face and inhale deeply, warm yeast and flour filling my nose. “Mmmm.” I hold it toward him.
He takes a breath, then leans back and nods. “Well, go on . . . break bread.”
Grinning like a kid at Christmas, I grip the edges and start to twist.
“Wait!” Justin yelps, stopping me, the loaf suspended.
He falls from his chair to the deck, my leg flopping from his lap along with his napkin.
I giggle. “What are you doing?”
“Okay,” he says, now kneeling on one knee. “Keep going.”
The people at the table behind us have stopped what they were doing and are now looking at us, and I notice Annabelle Winters beside the entrance watching as well. I look at the bread, then at Justin, then back again, and blood rushes to my face as I realize what is happening.
“Really?” I say.
He nods toward the bread.
Cheeks spread wide, I tear it in two, sending gold crumbs raining onto the tablecloth.
Poking from the steaming center is the corner of a stainless-steel cylinder.
I dig my fingers in to pry it loose and set it on the palm of my hand. An inch and a half tall and two inches in diameter, it’s engraved on top with two doves surrounded by a ring of leaves.
The woman behind us shifts for a better view.
Heart pounding, I prize off the lid. Sitting on a bed of white satin is a stunning sapphire ring, the center stone blue as the deepest ocean, a single diamond baguette on either side.
“Ava Nicole Barnes,” Justin says, his voice elevated for the audience, “keeper of my heart, guardian of my soul, and woman of my dreams, will you make me the happiest man on this earth and do me the great honor of becoming my wife?”
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Not happy? No problem. Fake it. From New York Times bestselling author J. Courtney Sullivan comes the sharp witted short story, Model Home, about the reality of reality TV.
On the ninth take, things get heated between the husband, Todd, and his wife, Noreen.
He complains that this house only has three bedrooms, leaving no possibility for the man cave he was promised he’d get if they gave up their downtown Milwaukee loft for the suburbs. She seems flabbergasted that he can’t see the advantage of sacrificing that space for what is by far the biggest backyard of the three houses they’ve looked at.
Todd says in a tone that manages to sound both jokey and hostile, “If we buy this house, you can’t complain when I play my electric guitar in the living room. Have you thought of that?”
Noreen replies, “I’m only ever thinking of Colby and Mason.”
If you ask me, they both deserve an Oscar. The tension is palpable, even though everyone present knows they already bought this house seven months ago.
House Number One belongs to Todd’s cousin. It isn’t for sale. House Number Two is soon to be listed. The owner was happy to provide access, since being featured on our show, even as a reject, will sell the place in a minute.
I, the wise referee/realtor/designer, smile and say for what feels like the one trillionth time in my life, “Sounds like you two have a lot to discuss. Babe, let’s leave them to it.”
I wonder briefly if I’ll ever get to say these words again on camera, but I have to put the thought from my head.
I never call Damian babe in real life. Especially not now, but even back when I could stand him.
He doesn’t meet my eye. He’s staring into space, going out of his way to look disinterested. No one notices but me. Lately I think of my husband as a disappointment turducken: a lack of ambition wrapped in a beer gut wrapped in a statement tee designed for a much fitter man.
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Everyone is home for the holidays, clamoring for all the Christmas cheer only their mother can whip up. They can already smell the chestnuts roasting—or is that Mom’s hair on fire? From New York Times bestselling author Chandler Baker comes the laugh-out-loud short story, Oh. What. Fun.
During normal times, Mom loves to spend most of her day on the phone with one of us or the other. As soon as she hangs up with Channing, she’ll call Sammy; as soon as she’s done with Sammy, Tyler will call; and then she starts the whole process again. Not that we’d ever say this out loud, but we’re in the thick of our lives, so we’re busy with dating and kids and friends getting married and pregnant and such, and, well, Mom’s stories are kind of dull. Though obviously, in retrospect, this is an instance when we should have paid better attention.
Unlike Mom, Channing never complains about anything and so she didn’t make a big deal of it when Mom, again, forty-five minutes after the agreed-upon time, took over the kids, leading them on a special explorer hunt to find Canelo the Elf.
Mom is wild about that Elf on the Shelf. Canelo joined us three Christmases ago. The twins are in a Spanish- immersion program, hence the name, and Channing and Doug explained to us that if Canelo started the month of December at their house, he’d need to travel for the time spent at Grandpa and Grandma’s. It only made sense. So the trick is there are actually two Canelos. Mom bought a body double so Channing could leave hers safely at home. Canelo’s antics are one of those things we all tease her about: Somebody has too much time on her hands. But the truth is, we do kind of get a kick out of him.
Mom keeps the Elf ’s next move top secret from everyone, even Dad. Last year, Canelo relaxed in a Crockpot Jacuzzi filled with marshmallows; then he stole all of our toilet paper to build snowmen and rode a zip line down the stairs. This year was off to an impressive start as the twins took binoculars and donned safari hats to track down Canelo, who was wearing camouflage in one of the old oak trees. But we guess we’ll never know what else Canelo had in store, because Canelo hasn’t moved in two days. His painted, unblinking eyes stare at us from his perch, and none of us have been able to work out yet how it is we should explain this to the twins.
We think at some point during the Canelo expedition Sammy pulled up and plopped down on the couch, probably with his shoes still on, and started messing around on his phone. Every group of siblings has a “one,” and Sammy, for us, is the Boring One, mainly because he’s twenty-five and always on his phone. Also he just broke up with his girlfriend (see: always on phone), and yet when we tasked him with one very simple to-do—break into Mom’s phone—well all the sudden he apparently “didn’t know anything about phones.”
Sammy didn’t see anything or hear anything or smell anything unusual, but as we’ve already pointed out, this can’t be taken as gospel since he was preoccupied texting back and forth with his ex.
do you know what kind of laundry detergent you used to use on our clothes? Bc mine smell all weird now.
It’s the fabric softener. Downy infusions. Scent: Romantic.
Later, we passed around the conversation to weigh in by committee on whether she meant anything by it. We even consulted the Downy website while Mom handed out homemade eggnog because none of us care for the store bought, and there we learned that the Romantic scent carries “sensual aromas of delicate floral, white tea, and peony,” and at least half of us found it difficult to overlook a smoking gun like “sensual” right there as the subtext.
After dinner, Mom asked Channing if she’d mind watching the twins for a few minutes while she cleaned the kitchen, and we all took bets on whether Sammy and Mae-Bell would be back together by spring. The holidays can be hard on people, you know. Everyone except for Mom anyway, who just loves an excuse to corral us all together under one roof. Nothing makes her more upset than a year when she has to share Channing and the twins with Doug’s family. This year, Doug’s family was indisposed because they were up in Vermont visiting Doug’s aunt, but they probably could have been in the ICU and Mom would have been just as happy as long as the result was having Channing and the girls all to herself. Not to be alarmist, but of all the years to up and vanish, you just wouldn’t expect it to be one where Channing was set to be home the whole time.
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