AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Lauren K. McKellar
A CRAZY IN LOVE CHRISTMAS
“One more song! One more song!” The crowd chants in unison, a roaring anthem that rings throughout the 1100-strong crowd at the Metro Theatre.
Lee waves and walks toward the side of stage, throwing his guitar pick into the audience as the chant keeps on. A frenzied scream breaks the signature cry, and I smile, my eyes landing on the shrieking girl with the mile-wide grin.
“You’d think he’d just given her an orgasm or something,” Kate mutters beside me.
I turn to grin. “Aw, are you jealous?” I poke her lightly in the side. “I’m sure Lee Freaking Collins will give you a guitar pick if you ask for one, too.”
“Babe.” Lee strides over, places his guitar in the waiting hands of a tech and presses his hands to either side of Kate’s head, pulling her mouth to his in a passionate kiss. I look away, searching for my own Romeo, and find him—
Pulling a chair over to my side.
“Sit. How many times do I have to tell you to sit?” Michael places the seat behind me and presses lightly on my shoulders.
I fight against his push and remain on my feet. “I’m not a child.”
“You’re just carrying one.” He shakes his head. “Stace, you’re eight months pregnant. You shouldn't even be here, let alone putting all that pressure on yourself physically.”
“Are you saying I’m too fat to hold my own weight?” I rub my stomach protectively, even though it’s not entirely an incorrect observation. My feet have started to ache a bit lately. And my thighs. And my calves. Still, the idea is offensive. “Besides, I sat all show. I just got up to give you a congratulatory kiss.” I look up at him from under my eyelashes.
Desire races across Michael’s face, and I curl one hand behind his neck, pulling him closer. His lips cover mine, feather-light at first, then I run my tongue along his lower lip, seeking entrance. His body presses closer to mine, and heat races through me. Hands trail over my sides, dancing dangerously close to my chest and damn, do I need him to touch me there. God, I want him. Seeing him up there on stage in front of hundreds of people, playing that bass like that—it makes me want him so bad. It makes me want to strip the buttons from this shirt and—
“The green room. Now,” I growl.
Michael laughs and shakes his head. “Babe, we have …” He jerks his head toward the stage behind him, then slowly says in time to the chanting crowd, “one more song.”
“Fine.” I push at his shoulders and roll my eyes. “Tease.”
Michael blows me a kiss, then turns to the couple beside us who are still in a sickening embrace. “You ready? We gotta get back out there.”
Lee pulls away and strokes a strand of Kate’s hair behind her ear. “Sure,” he says to Michael, but his eyes never leave the woman he loves.
I smile, so happy for my best friend. She’s found a man she loves more than anything in the world, and the best part? He loves her just as much. So much so that he arranged for Coal to have an Aussie tour over Christmas, ensuring Kate could be with her father as his condition continues to deteriorate. Their Christmas will be spent partly in the home, with Kate’s mum and dad, and partly in the hotel room, with Lottie and little Jay, who Lee had somehow convinced to come over here.
I smile at the woman in question. Lottie stands to the back of the wings area, leaning up against an unused amp. Her arms are folded across her chest, her gaze sad almost.
As Michael, Lee and Xander step back out on stage to a roar of approval, Kate follows my gaze, then turns back to me. “I wonder why she came.”
I shrug. “I guess she’s just doing what she said she’d do. She’s trying.” We let the unspoken words hang between us. Trying to bring together the man she used to love, the woman he loves now, and the little boy whose paternity remains unknown.
“I don't know why she won’t just let us get the test,” Kate mutters, then shakes her head. “Not that it matters. We love Jay, so much. Mum is just about losing her mind babysitting him tonight—it’s a good distraction for her, you know?”
I nod, and take my friend’s hand and squeeze it. The last year has been so hard on Kate’s mum. Company of the youthful and innocent kind is no doubt a great form of therapy. “I do.”
“We thought we’d close by getting in the Christmas spirit with you guys,” Lee purrs, and Kate’s attention snaps back to him, but my eyes stay on Lottie for a moment longer. She offers me a smile, and I give it back.
She looks so alone, and I wonder if this is it for her. I don't know all the details, but from what Kate’s told me, she doesn't have any family she can turn to, or really any close friends. All she has is … this. A foreign country on Christmas so she can spend half the day with her son, and the other half alone in a hotel room.
The notes of a familiar guitar riff sound, and I shake my head, my attention brought back to the stage. “Silent Night?”
Kate laughs, a grin tight on her lips. “The rock ‘n’ roll version.”
I wrap my arm around her and we sway, swinging along to the boys’ fast-paced version of the tradition carol.
Silent night …
Holy, right …?
Aussies are at the beach …
No snow in sight …
Fuck the turkey, you’re havin’ prawns and beer …
Drinking from eight a.m., you guys have Christmas cheer …
Sleep in for my girl and me-ee …
Merry rock ‘n’ roll Christmas Sydney
At that, the audience bursts into raucous applause. Michael wipes his brow, but the sweat still glistens from his cheeks. It’s hot tonight. So hot my arms stick to my sides. So hot my thighs slip together under my dress. So hot my—
That’s not sweat.
A pain twists my stomach, stabbing through my lower body like a knife. I reach out and clutch Kate’s arm, my nails digging into her skin.
“What?” She turns to me, still giggling at the boys’ last song. Upon meeting my gaze, her eyes widen. “Stace, what’s wrong?”
“I think I’m … I’m …” I look down at my feet. It’s dark back here, and I can’t see the ground, but there’s no doubt in my mind that if I could, there’d be a small puddle of water.
I’m not ready. I’m not ready. I’m not—
“Are you having the baby?” Kate grips my arm, and this time it’s her nails pressing against my skin.
I nod, mute, and Kate does what she does best—goes into organisational mode.
“Sit.” She taps my shoulder and I crumple onto the chair. Is this labour? This can’t be labour. I’m only thirty-seven weeks. I’m supposed to have forty. Forty weeks of pregnancy. I can’t take care of a human. I can’t—
“Michael, you’re having a baby,” Kate says, all but dragging him to my side as he walks off stage.
His eyes widen, and then he beams, this adorable puppy-dog grin that normally I love, but right now—
“I’m not ready to have a baby.” I shake my head.
“Maybe a discussion you guys should have had eight months ago?” Kate says gently, and I shoot her a killer look. She quickly retreats, her phone in her hand.
The pain has stopped, but I’m scared. Because if that’s the warm-up act, what the hell is going to happen next? I shake, and tears well in my eyes.
“I can’t do this,” I whisper, my head on my chest, staring at the patch of darker material on my dress.
Two warm hands land on my knees. They’re big, comforting, and then Michael’s body drops down to join them. Crouching, he places one hand under my chin, prompting my head to become eye level with his.
“Hey, beautiful,” he says in a quiet voice.
“I don’t … I can’t …” I shake my head. I don't even know what I’m arguing about anymore. All I know is this is real, and this is big, and this is scary, and I’ve lost a baby once. What if somehow I do it again?
“I’m organising a car,” Kate says, and then dashes off again, her phone still to her ear.
“Someone needs to call Mum. And your parents. And whose car has she organised?” I swallow. “And what if something happens?”
“Stace …” Michael shakes his head and trails his knuckles along my jaw. “Something is going to happen. You’re about to make me the happiest guy ever by giving birth to our daughter.”
“But what if I—”
A finger presses against my lips. “No buts.” Michael gives a soft smile, and the chocolate eyes I love so much soften even further. “Whatever the future holds, we’re in this together.”
“Are you sure?”
He nods. “With all my heart.”
And somehow, I know it’s true. This is the man I’ll love forever, and whatever life has in store for us, we’ll tackle it as a team head-on. And with that, I lean in and kiss my partner-in-parenting on the lips.
“Ow!” Michael jumps back. I glance over to where he’s standing to the side of stage, just in front of Stacey, seated in her chair. “You bit me!”
From behind, I can’t see her face, but if the clenched knuckles at her sides are anything to go by, I’d say that’s another contraction she’s going through.
My mind flashes back to my own labour. It wasn’t side of stage at a rock concert, but it wasn’t exactly conventional, either. I’d caught the bus into the hospital, surrounded by commuters in the peak of rush hour. I’d fought to hold on, to not show the pain as the bus rounded sharp corners. In the midst of a sea of people, I’d been so, so alone.
Kind of like I am now.
It’s your own fault, I tell myself, not for the first time. Hell, not for the millionth time.
I know what I did was wrong. But haven’t you ever made one mistake in your life? Just one thing you did as a young person, before you truly knew about the world, before you properly understood that some actions can have massive consequences that can rip the ground out from under you and tear you into pieces tinier than mince meat?
It all started with one lie. One deception.
And I pay penance for that every day of my life.
“Lottie, can I ask you a favour?” Kate’s hand on my arm breaks me from my thoughts, and I smile at the younger girl. We’re friendly to each other, but I can see the slight guard she puts up around me—and honestly, I can’t blame her.
“Anything.” I nod.
“Where are you parked? The guys are gonna get mobbed if they go in the limo now, and we need to get Stace to hospital, stat.”
I don't think; I just act. My hand fishes in my pocket for my keys. “I’m just down the road. I’ll bring the car out front.”
“Perfect.” Kate nods. “Stace and I’ll come down now. Michael will meet us at the hospital in an hour or so, when things calm down.”
And with that, I run. I jog from the side of stage out the emergency exit and make my way through the alley that runs alongside the theatre, right until I reach the black hire car I somehow found street parking for. I unlock the door and hop in, buzzing down the window to try and dilute the smell of too much air-freshener. I don't want Stacey to feel any more nauseous than she already is.
Minutes later, I pull up to the curb next to the theatre. Kate and Stacey pile in, then we’re off, racing toward the nearest hospital.
And that’s how I end up in the unlikely situation of playing chauffeur on Christmas Eve, escorting Lee’s girlfriend and her best friend to the hospital.
“Is it going to hurt?” Stacey asks from the back seat.
“Sure is,” Kate says cheerfully, and I laugh.
“I was asking the person who’s given birth,” Stacey says through clenched teeth. “Lottie, is it going to hurt?”
I nod. It’s a question I remember running through my head many times before. “It is, but you’re going to get through it. And when you do, you’re going to have this beautiful little baby that you love more than anything in the world. It’s a big love—bigger than anything you’ve ever experienced.” I think of Jay, of how a tiny part of me aches whenever we’re not close. “Love is scary, but it’s so damn worth it.”
“Wow,” Kate says. A small hand squeezes my arm. “That was beautiful.”
“Thanks.” I chance a quick glance at her, and she smiles. Maybe we’re starting to form a proper connection after all.
A snort sounds from the back seat. “Screw love. Let’s talk about my vagina. Am I going to need stitches?”
Kate laughs, and we both spend the rest of the car trip trying to convince Stacey that shoving the baby back inside her isn’t the best way to deal with this whole labour thing she’s got going on.
Twelve hours later, twelve of us are crowded into a room in the hospital. There’s Lee, Kate and Michael, a whole heap of dark-haired Stacey lookalikes, and a man who’d introduced himself as Michael’s father to me earlier. Tinsel loops around the edges of the room, and the smell of roast meat lingers in the air. Stacey’s mother couldn't bear the idea of her little girl missing Christmas, and even though Stacey has refused food at least four times in the last ten minutes, her mother keeps persisting.
A small part of me pangs. I wish someone would look after me like that.
“Who wants to hold Bella next? Kate?” Stacey asks. As she hands over what would have to be the cutest baby I’ve ever seen, one small fist breaks free from the pink blanket, and a chorus of ‘awws’ float over the room, before the usual chatter erupts. There’s so much love in here—for the gorgeous Bella, for Stacey and her complication-free labour, and for each other.
A hand rests on the small of my back. I glance over my shoulder into the grey eyes of Xander.
They’re eyes that seem so wise and so peaceful, all at once. Eyes that have been my undoing, ever since the first time I saw them.
“Hey,” he speaks in a soft voice. I barely hear it over the din of squeals and chatter coming from the others.
“How are you?” he asks a loaded question. Because with Xander, it’s never just a passing comment. It says so much more.
“Fine,” I reply, and nod in his direction. “Yourself?”
“Good, good.” He places an arm around me, and I stiffen. “Lottie, you gotta … have you thought any more about my offer?”
I swallow. Xan’s offer is almost all I think about some days. Xan is almost all I think about.
But I can’t take the out he’s offering me. Not when I’ve screwed up so badly before.
I shake my head. “Xan, I …”
He shrugs. “It’s okay.” One of his hands trailed from my waist, over my back, and to the top of my head, which he pulls close to his chest. It smells like mint and spice and Christmas somehow, and I inhale, sucking in as much of it as I possibly can. If only I could bottle that.
Soft lips press to my forehead, and when I finally find the strength to pull away, those eyes drill into me once more. “Merry Christmas, Carly.”
The use of my old name twists a knife buried deep inside me. “Merry Christmas.”
It’s three hours later when I find it. I’m alone in my hotel room, a bottle of wine and a cheesy Christmas movie my only company. I strip out of my dress, and when I ball it up to place in my bag, I notice a strange lump.
Frowning, I shake out the silky material, my fingers fumbling in the pockets and finding a small gift-wrapped item.
Xander. It has to be.
I place the item on my bedside table, right next to the bottle of wine, and step into my nightgown. I have nowhere to be, no one to look after—Jay’s staying the night with Lee and Kate at her parents’ house, so right now it’s just me and this.
I pull back the covers and hop into bed, pour myself a too-large glass of wine, and hold the present in shaking hands.
Because this is the first real Christmas gift I’ve received in five years.
I’ve been a part of Secret Santas at the dancing club I used to work at, and I even got a card from Lee last year, a few weeks after I started working for him, but this feels different, somehow. Special.
Careful hands slide tape from paper, and then I fold open the covering to expose what’s underneath.
In the middle of a large piece of a box lies a watch. The gold back is slim, and the face is a pearlescent white. It’s fine and delicate and so very feminine.
“My God,” I whisper, as I take it from the box and study it up close. Xan bought this … this Swarovski watch for me?
As I flip it over to inspect the back, I see the inscription. Four simple words, but they hurt so much to see.
It’s time for you
Tears blossom in my eyes and I take a sip of the wine. He’s all I want for Christmas … and the one thing I can never have.
Not until I can make up for that one big lie.
ONE LIE, book four in the Crazy in Love series, coming 2016. Pre-order your copy on iBooks today.
Lauren K. McKellar is the author of contemporary romance reads that make you feel. She lives by the beach in Australia with her husband and their two dogs. Most of the time, all three of them are well behaved.
You can connect with her via Facebook, or on instagram and twitter via the handle @LaurenKMcKellar.
You can connect with her via Facebook, or on instagram and twitter via the handle @LaurenKMcKellar.
Head to Lauren K. McKellar's website and blog: www.laurenkmckellar.com
Finding Home: http://amzn.to/1TEBr6j
The Problem with Crazy (Crazy in Love #1): http://amzn.to/1m0VIYr
Eleven Weeks (Crazy in Love #2): http://amzn.to/1m0VNLM
The Problem with Heartache (Crazy in Love #3): http://amzn.to/1TEAMBK
Crazy in Love - 3 book series: http://amzn.to/1m0W4hI
How To Save A Life (Emerald Cove #1): http://amzn.to/1m0VWPl
The Twenty-One (Emerald Cove #2): http://amzn.to/1TEB2ko
1. If money was no object what would take out the number one spot on your Christmas list?
Oh, that’s a tricky one. Perhaps a holiday to a tropical island. Sunshine, cocktails, lots of time to read … that sounds soooo good!
2. What was the first book you read that made you think “wow this is what I want to do, I want to be an author”?
I decided when I wanted to be an author when I was a kid. I would always get Mum to buy these lined exercise books and fill them up with stories I created.
As an adult, there wasn’t really a book that started me writing so much as the concept of NaNoWriMo. Since then, I’ve been hooked.
3. What does Christmas mean for you?
Christmas means spending lots of time with the people I love and care about. It means giving, occasionally eating too much, and often swimming at the beach. Sometimes, it means being stretched to try and fit everyone in, but always it means being thankful for the wonderful people I have in my life.
4. What’s your guilty pleasure, the one thing you hate admitting out loud?
Why would I tell you that? :p My guilty pleasure would be watching old musicals. I watched The Sound of Music on TV a few Saturdays ago. I’m embarrassed to admit it was one of the best Saturdays I’ve had all year!
5. What’s next for you in terms of writing?
At the moment I’m working on FAME, the first book in my Not Like The Movies series (available for pre-order on iBooks now). It’s a fun and flirty Hollywood romance, set on a deserted island … hmm … no wonder that’s on my Christmas wish-list!