About Christmas Dinner
News anchor Amanda Turner used to love everything about the holidays—the eggnog sugar cookies, the tacky family Christmas sweaters, and a lawn decorated with so many multi-colored lights that 747s could land safely. That is until her boyfriend dumped her in front of the whole town on Christmas Eve. Humiliated, she fled her small town start a new life. Two years later, she’s finally ready to return to the scene of the emotional crime, until she learns that her ex is engaged. Now, the only thing worse than going home is going home single.
Tate Ryan, her tall, dark, and arrogant co-anchor, offers to pose as her boyfriend. There’s one problem, though: they barely like each other, and he recently scooped her story on live TV. But she needs a ride home and a boyfriend fast, so Tate will have to do.
As she watches Tate interact with her family and town residents, fully embracing the spirit of the holiday season, she starts to see his kindhearted side. She can’t help but wonder if she was wrong about him. Perhaps he isn’t the conniving co-worker that she once thought. And her new feelings for him would definitely put her on the naughty list.
Tate has his own agenda for the weekend that includes telling Amanda he’s been in love with her since the first time they met. He’s ready to reveal all during Christmas dinner but fate has other plans.
Robyn Neeley is an East Coaster who loves to explore new places; watches way more reality TV than she cares to admit; can’t live without Dunkin Donuts coffee and has never met a cookie she didn’t like. (No wonder I like her so much.) If you have a must read romance suggestion or a fabulous cookie recipe, she wants to know. Visit her at www.robynneeley.com.
Robyn and I are running off to Dunkin Donuts together with a plate full of fudge. Lucky you, she’s sharing the recipe.
Delicious Holiday Fudge!
2/3 cups evaporated milk
2 cups sugar
1 square of baker’s chocolate
1 stick margarine or butter
4 Hershey candy bars
½ cup of nuts
Stir first three ingredients well and bring to a boil.
Boil for three minutes. Add margarine or butter the last 1 1/2 minutes stirring all the time
Take fudge from heat and stir in Hershey bars (broken up) and nuts. Beat until thick, add vanilla and pour in an 8 x 8 buttered pan. Add nuts to the top if you’d like. Put in the refrigerator until set, then cut into squares.
Now that you have a snack, enjoy this excerpt from Christmas Dinner
“I’ll have another, please.” Amanda waved her empty wine glass and glanced up at the mounted television. Their explosive local story had made national news. “I really need to get out of this town,” she muttered.
“Excuse me?” The bartender picked up her glass. He was wearing a Santa hat.
“Oh, nothing.” She pointed at his head, changing the subject. “Do they make you wear that?”
“Nah, I just like to get into the Christmas spirit.” He grabbed a bottle of wine, refilling her glass.
“Christmas spirit,” she echoed dryly. She remembered that feeling. It was only two years ago that it was her favorite time of year-two heartbreaking years. “Thanks.”
She took a long gulp and went back to brooding over Brad’s status update. What if she ran into him and his fiancée this weekend? Oh, God. What if she knew her?
“Hey, Santa, think you could bring me a boyfriend to take home this weekend?” she asked sarcastically. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a flicker of a man in a suit. She knew its owner immediately.
“Why, Ace, are you taking resumes?”
She spun around and shook her head. Tate had taken the empty seat next to her. Her knees briefly touched his. “What the- where did you come from? Are you following me now?” She drank her wine. “I hate you,” she mumbled.
“I’ll take that as a no.” He pointed to her fresh glass. “I see you’re celebrating. Mind if I join you?”
She pushed off her seat. “Sorry, I was just leaving.” Her legs wobbled, and she felt a little tipsy. When had she become such a lightweight? She sat down to regain her equilibrium. “On second thought, I was here first.”
The bartender came over. “Sir, can I get you anything?”
“A stocking full of coal would be appropriate,” Amanda interjected sweetly. She glared at Tate and raised her finger directly at a group of women on the other side of the bar who were looking their way. She suspected they were gushing over Tate. Most women did.
“See that cougar in the tight sequined silver top and black hooker stilettos? I’m sure she’s one of your fans. I’d bet my paycheck she’d love to have the great Tate Ryan make her night.”
Tate nodded to the woman and pulled Amanda’s arm down. She felt his hand linger.
“I think I’ll pass.” He signaled the bartender and said, “Hey, buddy, could I get a Manhattan?” Then he turned back to Amanda. “Okay, talk to me, Mandy. Why so glum?”
“Don’t call me that. My brother calls me Mandy, and I’m angry with him right now, too.” She stood once again and reached for her purse, determined this time to get away from her co-anchor. “I think I’ll get a table-for one. Merry Christmas, Tate,” she said flatly.
She walked over to the dining area and scanned the room for an empty table. There was one near the window. She plopped down in a chair.
Tate sauntered over.
“Oh, no. No, no.” She raised her hand in protest. “You are not sitting here.”
“Look, you can’t still be angry with me for what happened earlier.”
“Why can’t I?”
“Ace, you know I didn’t sabotage you.” He pulled out a chair and took a seat.
Amanda sighed. “I know.”
“Listen, let’s order some dinner. My treat. I’m starving, and I’ll bet you are, too. We’ll eat, and you can tell me why you’re here drowning your sorrows because this can’t all be my fault. Start from the beginning. I’m a great listener.” He scrolled through his iPhone. “Was it really that bad of a day?” he asked, glancing up.
“You can’t be serious. You did not just ask me that.”
Tate shrugged. “It’s one story. There will be others.”
“Not like this one.”
“You really believe that?”
Amanda shrugged. “I don’t know what I think anymore. Let’s just order. Will you promise to leave me alone after we eat?”
“Deal. Okay, where to begin? All right, why do you hate me? No. Wait.” Tate jerked his hand up in the air in a halt. “Don’t answer that. Let’s start with a softball question. Why do you hate the holidays?” He grabbed the other menu on the table.
“I don’t hate the holidays.”
Tate smirked. “Amanda, you pretty much tell anyone who wishes you a Merry Christmas to go to hell.”
“That’s not true.”
“Not to mention I had to twist your arm for you to do the kick-off story on this year’s toy drive.”
“That hardly makes me a scrooge. I agreed to it, didn’t I?”
He pointed at the window. “Speaking of toys, did you see that huge Santa and sleigh on the flatbed truck in the parking lot? It’s filled with all kinds of fun things. What do you think they’re doing with all those toys?”
Amanda followed his gaze out the window. In the darkness, she could just make out a life-size Santa and sleigh. God, she hated sleighs.
She could also see Tate’s reflection in the glass. The man certainly knew how to wear a suit. Why did he have to be so incredibly good looking? His eyes met hers, causing her cheeks to warm. She glanced away and reached for the breadbasket. “Does it really matter?”
“I’m just trying to lighten the mood.” He flipped his menu to the other side.
She sighed. He was right. It was common knowledge around the station that she wasn’t a big fan of the holidays.
“You’re right. I do get somewhat uptight this time of year,” she admitted. “I was planning on going home tomorrow, but now I don’t know-”
Tate looked up and interrupted. “You’re not going home for Christmas? Why?”
“I don’t know what to do. My mother will kill me if I don’t. My older sister’s about to have a baby.”
“With her, yes. It’s just I received some unsettling news about my ghost from Christmas past.”
“Never mind.” She slid back in her chair and took a drink. “It’s just hard to be single during the holidays, I guess.”
Tate studied her. “I wouldn’t have pegged you as the type of woman who gets down in the dumps for being single this time of year.”
“I’m not.” She paused. “Well, maybe I am a little. You think you’re headed down this precise path to achieving all of your carefully planned out goals-good grades, great college, solid career, the guy, perfect marriage, great sex-”
“Why, Ace, I could help you with that last goal.”
Amanda rolled her eyes. Of course he could. She continued, “Adorable kids and a nice house.” She sat up in her chair. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy in Wilmington. I’ve got a wonderful career, good friends, and my beautiful beachside condo bought and paid for. It’s just . . . I don’t know. You think everything is on track and then a-”
“Teleprompter jams,” he finished.
Her eyes started to water. “Something like that.” She immediately looked out the window to hide the evidence. Tate could not see her cry.
“So how long has it been since you’ve been home?”
“Two years.” Amanda grabbed a piece of bread and broke it apart.
“That’s nothing. What’s kept you away?”
“Long story.” Amanda grimaced and shoved the bread in her mouth.
“Might help to talk about it.”
She swallowed. “If you must know, my boyfriend of five years dumped me two years ago on Christmas Eve in front of all my family and friends.”
“Tell me about it.” She picked up her glass and swung it up in the air. “Then I get a text tonight telling me to check my Facebook, and guess what?” she asked, her voice rising. She didn’t wait for Tate to respond. “The bastard’s getting married!” She slammed her glass down. “Freakin’ engaged.”
“Is it really the end of the world?” Tate motioned for the waiter to bring Amanda a glass of water.
“Clearly you’ve never been in a relationship.”
“You just said you were happy here.”
“Are you still in love with him?”
“No.” She shook her head. “He might have broken up with me, but I realized we really weren’t meant to be. It’s just . . .”
Amanda stared at Tate. Why was he so interested in her love life? “I guess I don’t understand why Brad gets to have his happy ending before me. Two years ago he didn’t want it.” Her eyes watered. This time she couldn’t hide the evidence as one tear slid down her cheek. “At least not with me.”
Tate grabbed a napkin from the table dispenser and handed it to Amanda. “Let’s turn this around.”
“How?” She sniffed, dabbing her eyes.
“Okay, here’s how I see it. Your sister is radiantly pregnant and about to pop out your mother’s first grandchild. Is your brother in a relationship?”
“Yes, with my best friend from high school.”
“I see. It’s all making sense. There you will be at Christmas dinner, sandwiched between both couples. You have a great career and some would say a pretty good life here down south, but the humiliation of what happened with Brad will be the unspoken elephant in the room all weekend. Am I painting an accurate picture?”
With each stroke of his verbal brush, he certainly was. “I think you should order your dinner to go,” she said icily. It had obviously been a bad idea to share her love life with Tate.
“I think I can help-no, I know I can help you.”
“Help me? How?”
“If you brought a new man home, it would show everyone that you’ve moved on.”
“Maybe, but it’s not like I can rent one.” She thought for a second-could she?
“No need.” Tate reached for his drink and took a sip. “You can take me-free of charge.”
Amanda studied Tate. Was she hearing things?
“Take me home with you and introduce me as your boyfriend. I’ll fill that seat at Christmas dinner this year.”
“I was kidding with the bartender.” Amanda scoffed. The idea of bringing home a handsome boyfriend was intriguing. It would prove to everyone she was over Brad and past the humiliating breakup. But this was Tate. Handsome, yes. Her boyfriend? She didn’t think so. He rattled her on most days. They’d never pull it off.