Countdown to a kiss (a n.., p.1
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       Countdown To A Kiss (A New Year's Eve Anthology), p.1

           Mara Jacobs
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Countdown To A Kiss (A New Year's Eve Anthology)


  Countdown to a Kiss

  A New Year’s Eve Anthology

  Colleen Gleason

  Holli Bertram

  Mara Jacobs

  Liz Kelly

  Countdown to a Kiss: A New Year’s Eve Anthology

  “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” © 2012 Colleen Gleason

  “The Keeper of the Debutantes” © 2012 Liz Kelly

  “Kiss of a Lifetime” © 2012 Holli Bertram

  “The Perfect Kiss” © 2012 Mara Jacobs

  All rights reserved.

  This book is a work of fiction. All characters and events are from the authors' imaginations. Any resemblance to persons living or dead and actual events are purely coincidental.

  The use of the name Henderson honors the happy memories of one of the authors. So, to the citizens of Henderson, NC, we apologize for the gross inaccuracies and hope you enjoy this completely fictionalized version of a town bearing the same name.

  Tess

  For S. H.

  What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

  Chapter One

  Henderson, North Carolina

  New Year’s Eve

  “I am not going to kiss Lewis Kampmueller at midnight.”

  Tess Devine glared at herself in the rearview mirror of her BMW, practicing for the firm refusal she was going to give her sisters tonight. Then she realized the traffic light had turned green and she returned her attention to the road, accelerating smoothly out of the parking lot of Henderson Community Hospital.

  She waved to Mrs. Linkline, giving a little toot of the horn, as she cruised toward downtown Henderson, which was all decked out in cheery holiday decor. Mrs. L, her old Algebra and Geometry teacher, waved back and made motions that clearly said See you tonight!

  Right. See you tonight.

  No way am I going stag to the party. And no way am I going to kiss Lewis.

  For the last decade, Tess and her younger sisters had lied, cheated, dodged and otherwise manipulated each other, determined not to be the one in their family to kiss Lewis at midnight.

  And if the confident, flamboyant, never-without-a-date, semi-famous Tess Devine actually had to finally kiss the geekiest guy in town, Grace and Annabelle would never let her hear the end of it. Hell, it would probably end up as a sidebar on Page Six or on one of the gossip sites: Broadway Star goes Stag to Own Family’s New Year’s Eve Bash/Forced to Kiss Sisters’ Reject.

  Someone would probably even post a picture on Facebook.

  Her sisters would especially love it, for in the decade since they’d first made the bet, Tess made sure she never had to kiss Lewis. It was usually poor Grace who’d had to kiss him…not that he minded at all. Anyone with a pair of eyes in their head knew he’d been in love with the middle Devine sister since he was sixteen. And Tess figured it was her job as matchmaker and older sister to help facilitate True Love.

  Tess grinned at her reflection, remembering how nearly every year, Lewis—sometimes with her help or Annabelle’s—made sure poor Gracie would be left high and dry without a date at midnight. No matter how hard the middle sister tried, her escort never lasted until the witching hour—if he even made it to the party in the first place.

  Poor Lewis. If he didn’t close the deal this year, he was just going to have to give up. What the hell was wrong with the guy?

  Just then she heard the perky tones of Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo coming from the depths of her purse. Speak of the devil.

  She pushed her Bluetooth earpiece and answered the call. “Hey Grace.” Her sister—an FBI Special Agent—would never know she’d picked such a fluffy song for her special ringtone. If Grace ever found out, she’d probably do one of her FBI moves on Tess and break her neck. (Although Grace always denied having any lethal moves, Tess didn’t believe her.)

  “Are you almost here? I can’t wait to see you!”

  “About fifteen more minutes. Had to stop at Birdie’s and then the hospital to visit some of the children,” Tess replied. “And I know why you want to see me so badly—because you haven’t picked out anything to wear yet, have you?”

  “Nooo,” moaned Grace. “Belly’s going to have my head. Can’t you get here any sooner? I have to have something before she gets here. She sent me links four months ago. And then another month later. And she tried to set me up with a damned personal shopper. What the hell am I going to do with a personal fucking shopper? Have you heard from her?”

  Tess was laughing. Poor Grace. If she had her way, she’d throw on a black t-shirt and a pair of dress slacks for the party, not caring that everyone else would be in tuxes and evening gowns. “No—but she’s supposed to be en route from Raleigh.”

  “I’ve been trying to catch her on her cell for the last hour, and all I get is voicemail.”

  “You know her—she’s probably dictating seating charts or picking out a dress…for next year’s party. I wonder who she’ll bring this year for her date,” Tess said hopefully. If Annabelle didn’t have a date either, their agreement dictated they would both have to kiss Lewis.

  “I don’t know—but you can bet she’ll bring someone. She swore to me she wasn’t going to be stuck with Lewis this year.”

  “How about you? Who’s going to be on your arm?”

  “A big bad wolf, as a matter of fact,” Grace said mysteriously. “What about you, big sister dear? Now that you’re single again….”

  Tess laughed, hardly even feeling the pang of pain and shame thanks to her pending divorce. “I’m not telling. You’ll have to wait and see.” After all, there was still hope. Maybe the bartender would be cute. “Well, I’ve got to run. I’ll see you in a few.”

  As she ended the call, Tess braked in front of Clavell’s Pharmacy to let a woman and her two children cross, then stuck her head out the window when she recognized her. “Hey, Deanne! You’re coming tonight, right?”

  The woman waved and brought her children over to the car, ignoring the light but steady traffic going through the quaint downtown. “Hi Tess! You know I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Joey and I look forward to it every year—well, at least I do. Joey would rather not be stuffed into a tux, but he knows he’ll have fun anyway.”

  “I can’t wait to see your dress,” Tess said. “You always wear something fabulous. Did you get great shoes?”

  “Oh yes—Annabelle sent me a link to a great online shoe place and I found the perfect pair. Wait till you see them!”

  “Make sure you get there early,” Tess told her. “And park in the side lot—it’s easier to get in that way. The band is going to be great, so don’t forget to bring your socks so you can take off your shoes!”

  One of Deanne’s children, Dusty, tugged on her mom’s hand. Deanne bent to her and said, “Say hi to Miss Tess. Do you remember her? She was Belle when we went to see Beauty and the Beast. Remember, when we visited Auntie Susan in New York?”

  Tess smiled at Dusty and her younger brother Joe Junior. “I remember you—you came to visit me backstage after the show. I showed you the glass with the rose inside it, remember?” The little girl was cute as a button, with just the right amount of freckles on her pug nose. Tess tightened her insides against an envious pang.

  “You don’t look like Belle,” Dusty said, shielding her eyes from the noon December sun. “She had hair….” She moved her hand in a gesture that clearly indicated Tess’s long honey blonde hair was not the same as Belle’s brown, elegant updo.

  “That’s because I wore a wig. See?” Tess snatched up the Belle wig, which she’d tossed on the seat next to her, and was now muddled up with the familiar yellow dress. She still wore that cost
ume to visit children in the hospital, for they never tired of Belle.

  A gentle toot behind them made Deanne and Tess look around. “Guess we’d better move,” Dee said. “See you tonight!” And she hurried off with her two munchkins.

  Dee’s parting words brought her thoughts back to the problem at hand. Because…really. Tess Devine could not go to the biggest shindig in Henderson without a date. Hmm. Maybe she could just pretend she was still married….No. She didn’t want to be attached to Barry any longer.

  Whatever. I’m not going to kiss Lewis, no matter how hard Grace and Belly try. I’m almost twenty-nine years old. I’ve been nominated for a Tony. I’ve been on the cover of Fashion. I’ve been on a date with Matthew Morrison.

  If I can handle a drunk co-star feeling me up live onstage, I can handle my sisters.

  Especially since the drunken co-star had been a woman.

  Lewis wasn’t that bad—not anymore, anyway. Sure, he’d been a four-eyed gweeb with his face always in a computer back in high school, but the biggest problem with him hadn’t been that as much as Mom and Dad. They’d had some medieval fantasy about joining the Devine and Kampmueller families for twenty years, and all three of the Devine sisters had rebelled against the idea of a forced marriage, so to speak. Poor Lewis wasn’t so much a nerd as he was The Guy Your Mom Wanted You To Marry, So of Course You Didn’t.

  “Hell, maybe I should just give it up and kiss Lewis this year,” Tess said aloud as she drove by the massive Christmas tree at the center of town. It always reminded her of the one in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. “Then I’ll have had my turn and we can put this stupid game to rest. Ten years is enough.”

  I wonder if Johnny Wilder’s in town….

  A hot little shiver caught her by surprise when she thought of seeing Wilder. They used to be friends and had usually ended up hanging out in some form or another on New Year’s Eve. Then things had changed.

  It had been four years since that awkward night. They’d both had too much to drink and it was late and the things that had been said…well, she doubted he even remembered them. Surely he didn’t remember them.

  Besides. She was no fool. He’d just been trying to get in her pants, just like he did with every other female he encountered. Johnny Wilder was a Player—definitely with a capital P—and that was the last thing she needed in her life right now. She was turning over a new leaf, starting a new phase…and she didn’t need a guy like him to screw it up.

  What she needed was someone safe and easy.

  Which meant she needed to work on Plan B…and quickly. Because she was pulling in the driveway now. After she parked, she pulled out her phone and, grinning, sent a text to Lewis Kampmueller: Find me a date or you’re kissing me tonight, hot stuff.

  That ought to light a fire under his butt.

 

 

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