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Snowed In by Catherine Welsh

Snowed In

by Catherine Welsh

Published by Bookouture

Book 2 in the Fitzpatrick Christmas Series

Megan is dreading going home for the holidays.

She’s the village pariah, the she-devil who left local golden boy Isaac at the altar four years ago and ran away to the big city. She could really do without the drama. Particularly as he’s engaged again, and she’s just been dumped for the fourth time this year.

Christian’s fed up of being on his own every Christmas. He doesn’t mind being alone , but he hates his family’s sad eyes and soft tones as they sit around coupled up. Because he’s actually, totally, fine.

So when Megan literally bumps into Christian in a Dublin pub, they come up with a pact to see them through the holiday season. They’re going to be the very best fake dates for each other, ever .

Rules are drawn up, a contract is signed on a wine-stained napkin. They will sit through each other’s family gatherings and be outrageously in love until freed from their annual obligations. After all, it’s only for a few weeks.

But with everyone home for the holidays, two big families to deal with alongside old friends, old flames and old feelings, things are bound to get messy. And when a snowed-in cabin and a little Christmas magic are added to the mix, anything could happen…

A swoonworthy and utterly gorgeous romantic comedy that will make you laugh out loud and fall completely in love. Fans of Emily Henry, Sophie Kinsella and Abby Jimenez won’t be able to put this down!



Emotional abuse by an ex


Oh, Catherine Walsh.

Thank you.

Thank you for making me smile and laugh while reading your books.

Just like Holiday Romance, Snowed In was an all around wonderful read.


Catherine Walsh not only can write a great romance, but delicious banter. The banter is amazing. It makes an already great, well written story, and it makes it so much more than just another holiday romance.

There is a sweetness to this story that was there in Holiday Romance, but it also had a hint of pain to it with the addition of Megan's trauma from her past relationship with her ex.

A very realistic, very common type of abuse.

But it isn't the center of the story. It's a part of her, a part of her past, but she doesn't let it hold her back.

I love that.

Christian is interesting, because he doesn't nessacarily have trauma, but he does have his own issues that feel so normal. That no matter what you do, you don't feel like you live up to a parents expectations. Lonliness.

How can one not connect with him over this?

What else can I say?

Catherine Walsh is a new favorite author of mine.

If you love holiday rom-com's, with great banter and steam, you will love Snowed In! But I do recommend you read Holiday Romance first. While both are standalones, there is some great sideline plots in Snowed In that you will appreciate more if you read it first. Both books will make you laugh out loud.

Zoe: “Be more helpful. I thought you’d be good at this.”

Christian: “Why would you think that?”

Zoe: “Because your hair is fantastic! Look at it! It’s so thick and soft.”

It’s now the tourists’ turn to look at me as she practically shouts the words for the whole pub to hear.

Christian: “Zoe.”

Zoe: “Good hair is wasted on men. Like eyelashes. Why do you all have such long eyelashes? I pay fifty euro for my lash lift; meanwhile, you’re just walking around like some Victorian doll.”

I choke on my beer, setting the glass down before I can spill it.

Zoe: “It’s a compliment,”

I’m sure.

Christian: “If you’re that worried about a haircut, just make Molly get it first. Then you can see if it looks good or not.”

She starts to scoff before her eyes go wide, and she takes out her phone, presumably to text Molly, her identical twin.

Woman: “Excuse me?”

she asks, already halfway to taking it.

Woman: “Are you using— Is that a toddler?”

Zoe and I both turn to her almost two-year-old son, Tiernan, who sits next to her as he enjoys his daily allotted screen time via a tablet.

Zoe: “I think so,”

Zoe says slowly.

Zoe: “He was here when we arrived.”

Christian: “She’s kidding,”

I say when the woman stares at her.

Zoe: “I am. Sorry. I’m just nervous. It’s his first time meeting his dad.”

She turns back to me, suddenly emotional.

Zoe: “I’m glad you came.”

And here we go.

Christian: “He’s not mine.”

Woman: “I just need the chair,”

the woman says hastily.

Christian: “He’s not mine,”

I repeat, as Zoe sniffs.

Zoe: “If you could give us some privacy,”

she continues, and the stranger scurries away with the stool to a group of women who, after a few whispers, all swing in our direction. I force down a sigh.

Christian: “Are you ever going to get tired of doing that?”

Zoe: “It’s literally the reason I bring him.”

Zoe: “Ah.”

I break off, not liking the knowing look on her face.

Christian: “What?”

Zoe: “That’s what this is about. Another lonely boy having another lonely Christmas.”

Christian: “I’m not—”

Zoe: “You are so lonely. You are textbook lonely. Why else are you hanging out with a single mother and her two-year-old in a pub you hate on a Friday night?”

Christian: “Apparently, for a therapy session,”

I say, but she ignores me.

Zoe: “You’re a grown man. You don’t have to go home for Christmas if you don’t want to.”

Christian: “Of course, I want to.”

The words are instant. Automatic. Zoe sees right through them. Zoe: “What happened to that girl you were seeing? Naoise. She seemed nice.”

Christian: “She dumped me for a rugby player. And she wasn’t nice. I’m also pretty sure she was stealing from me.”

Zoe: “And that brunette with the killer arm muscles?”

Christian: “Focusing on her career.”

Zoe: “What did she—”

Christian: “Influencer.”

Zoe presses her lips together.

Zoe: “Maybe you should try dating a librarian. Or a Taurus.”

Christian: “Maybe I should just accept bachelor life.”

Zoe: “But you’re a lonely boy.”

Zoe: “I’d be open to it if it happened, but I’m good. Plus, I don’t want to tie myself down too much.”

Christian: “You literally have a child.”

Zoe: “I have a what?”

Christian: “Okay.”

I finish the last of my pint and stand as Zoe turns to Tiernan with a shocked expression.

Christian: “That’s officially old now.”

Zoe: “You tried to flirt, didn’t you?”

A new voice interrupts as a pretty blonde woman appears beside him, carrying a toddler on her hip.

Zoe: “You tried to pick up someone in a pub, and now look. You’ve got wine on your shirt.”

Christian: “I’m aware,”

Christian says, as she turns her curious gaze to me.

Zoe: “Are you alright?”

Megan: “I’m fine. Just nauseous.”

Zoe: “He has that effect on people.”

Megan: “The fact that you answered me right away makes me think you’re not working as hard as you should be,”

Frankie: “I’m not working at all. I’m with Claudio.”

Megan: “What? Why?”

Frankie: “For an orgasm, Megan. Why else?”

Frankie: “Do you want me to come home?”

Megan: “No. I thought you were studying. Orgasms are much more—”

I lock eyes with Christian as he enters the room, and his brows shoot up.

Megan: “Much more important,”

I finish, accepting the glass of water from him with as much dignity as I can muster.

Frankie: “You’re important. I can orgasm at home.”

Megan: “I know you can. I hear you all the time.”

Frankie: “So, I’ll—”

Megan: “Frankie, I’m serious. I’m going to grab a taxi and watch TV. I was just trying to give you an excuse to take a night off.”

Frankie: “But—”

Megan: “Enjoy yourself,”

I say, glancing at Christian, who’s studiously examining a poster for next week’s karaoke night.

Megan: “But thank you for offering to give up sex for me. I know it’s been a while.”

Frankie: “I’m not even mad about the jibe because it’s true. Text me when you’re back.”

Megan: “I will.”

Frankie: “Don’t faint again.”

Megan: “I won’t,”

I promise, and Christian turns back as we hang up.

Megan: “My grandmother.”

Christian: “It’s good to keep in touch,”

Megan: “We should have Christmas together. Be each other’s excuse.”

Christian: “Excuse?”

Megan: “Yeah. ‘My friend wants me to stay in Dublin’ and so on and so forth. We could have takeout. Watch some movies. Get wine-drunk.”

She sounds wistful.

Megan: “No showboating. No fake smiles.”

Christian: “No questions about life choices—”

Megan: “Or life partners. Just all the good stuff and none of the bad stuff. A black sheep Christmas.”

Christian: “Is that what we are?”

Megan: “I’ll buy us an ice-cream cake,”

is all she says, and leads me across the road.

Do you want to come up? Do you want to come up and have sex with me, Christian Fitzpatrick? Then step this way. Come right in. Be my freaking guest.

That’s thinking with the vagina and not the head. Except for my eyes. Because the eyes see what the eyes see, and I see… him.

I grab two bottles from the shelf and turn around to find him examining one of the many baskets of wool dotted around the apartment. I watch as he plucks a purple ball from the top, turning it over in his hands like he’s almost certain what it is but wants to make sure.

Christian: “You paint?”

Megan: “I…” .


Megan: “No, I— Shut up,”

I say, and he smiles.

He full-on smiles.

Christian: “When did that start? The knitting.”

Megan: “I can’t remember.”

It’s like asking when I learned to talk. For as far back as my thoughts allow, I always had needles in my hands.

Christian: “All your hats,”

he says suddenly, and I cringe as his eyes widen. I insisted on wearing every one of my creations as a child, whether or not they suited me. My mother probably thought she was doing the right thing by encouraging my interests, but looking back, maybe she could have hidden one of the uglier pieces and told me it shrunk in the wash.

Megan: “I’m better at it now,”

I say, but Christian’s not listening to me, too busy reminiscing.

Christian: “And those cardigans you used to wear. With the holes.”

Megan: “Some of those were intentional.”

Christian: “And the socks. With the—”

Megan: “Pom-poms.”

I sigh, passing him one of the bottles.

Megan: “Yeah.”

Christian: “How did we not bully the hell out of you?”

Megan: “Because knitting needles can stab,”

Christian: “Why don’t we go back together?”

Megan: “For Christmas?”

Christian: “Yeah.”

Megan: “Like carpool?”

Christian: “Like a couple.”

Like a… 

Megan: “A couple of what?”

Megan: “I was going to take this to the bedroom,”

I say, and his brow lifts in amusement.

Christian: “I’d hoped you would.”

Megan: “I just want you to know what you’re missing. I would have let you stay until morning and everything.”

Christian: “A real hostess,”

he says, but he turns serious as he gets that confident look again.

Christian: “This way is better.”

Is it, though?

Christian: “Cleaner,”

he continues, as he swipes the phone from my hands and starts to type.

Christian: “No messy feelings.”

Megan: “Yeah, feelings are gross.”

He hands the phone back, ignoring my sarcasm.

Christian: “I texted myself. You have my number.”

Zoe: “You’re a genius.”

Christian: “I know.”

I fit the plastic lid over my steaming cup of coffee, warming my hands with the cup as I turn to Zoe.

Zoe: “It’s just a faultless plan,”

she continues beside me.

Zoe: “It makes sense. It’s well thought-out. It’s in collaboration with someone you know well and trust. Truly, I’m amazed people don’t do this all the time.”

I pause, letting a group of people squeeze past me as she waits by the door.

Christian: “You’re being sarcastic, aren’t you?”

She puts a hand to her chest.

Zoe: “Me?”

Christian: “It’s a good idea.”

Zoe: “No. It’s not. I can’t believe you even got her to agree to it in the first place. I mean what did you—oh my God, you didn’t, did you?”

She gapes at me.

Zoe: “She thinks it’s as stupid as I do.”

Christian: “She’ll come around.”

Zoe: “If you were that serious about it, you could have just asked me,”

she says, dodging around a slow walker.

Zoe: “We could have—What?”

she adds at my look.

Zoe: “I think we’d have a blistering chemistry if we put our minds to it.”

Christian: “And when I break up with you and your toddler a month later, I’m sure they’ll forgive me.”

Zoe: “Alright, good point.”

Christian: “Hello?”

Megan: “What the hell!”

I’m full-on grinning now.

Christian: “Sorry, who’s this?”

Megan: “Christian—”

Christian: “You don’t like roses?”

Megan: “Not five bouquets of them. Everyone thinks I’ve got a boyfriend.”

Christian: “Oh no,”

I say cheerfully.

Christian: “Sounds awful.”

Megan: “You’re early,”

I say, and he raises a brow.

Christian: “I said seven. It’s seven.”

Megan: “That’s early.”

Christian: “It’s literally not.”

Christian: “You know, one of those guys has an antler span of 3.5 meters.”

Megan: “Sounds like he’s overcompensating,”

Christian: “I come here all the time. Or at least since I got back.”

Megan: “Really?”

Christian: “Yeah. Mam and Dad used to bring us whenever we came up to Dublin. I think it’s my favorite place in the city.”

Any snappy retort I was about to make quickly dies.

Megan: “It is?”

Christian: “It’s peaceful, isn’t it?”

He scratches the back of his neck, looking utterly sincere.

Christian: “I guess I wanted to take you somewhere that meant something to me.”

Oh God.

Megan: “Well, now I feel bad for my jokes.”

Christian: “You should.”

I sidle closer to him as another couple drifts past.

Megan: “Sorry. I didn’t know you were giving me insight into your soul.”

Christian: “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do. We haven’t even started on my favorite foods yet.”

Megan: “The true way to any man’s heart.”

Christian: “Can you ask Molly to… I don’t know, be her friend or something?”

The thought comes out of left field. I don’t know if Megan would even want one or need one, but I like the thought of her having someone not from the village on her side. Especially if everyone else is going to react the way Mam did. But Andrew sounds doubtful.

Andrew: “I don’t know,”

he says slowly.

Andrew: “Molly’s kind of a bitch.”

Molly: “I can hear you!”

Molly calls, and Andrew laughs.

Andrew: “I’m sure she’ll be happy to. I will also not be an asshole.”

Christian: “Are you lurking behind a curtain or something?”

Andrew: “I’m hiding in the closet. Literally. Not metaphorically. Molly has freakishly good hearing.”

Christian: “But terrible taste in men, so it all balances out.”

Andrew: “What would you choose?”

Christian: “The cabin is isolated, with minor horror movie vibes, but it’s the biggest and comes with a hot tub. The cottage is closest and small, but it looks the best and has a heated pool.”

Andrew: “The cottage has a pool?”

Christian: “Welcome to modern Ireland.”

Andrew: “Alright. Then I’ll take the cottage with the pool.”

Christian: “The cabin is also five hundred quid cheaper.”

Andrew: “Then I’ll take the horror movie cabin with the hot tub,”

he says just as cheerfully.

Andrew: “What could go wrong? Don’t answer that.”

Christian: “How? How do you know what she likes? She doesn’t even wear rings.”

Andrew: “How do you know she doesn’t—”

Christian: “Because I’m observant.”

Andrew: “Well, stop observing my future wife,”

he says before he pauses.

Andrew: “Oh, that sounds good. Wife.”

Christian: “Let’s get through the proposal first.”

Andrew: “Stay away from my wife,”

he continues in a mockingly deep voice, and I double the order for the petals.

Megan: I don’t think we should explore the ocean.

Christian: Do you mean as a couple or…

Megan: I think we should just leave it alone. We don’t need to go down there. Ever. We should just stay where we are. No more exploring.

Christian: What about space?

Megan: Oh, I don’t think about space. None of my business.

Christian: Noted.

Christian: Will you knit a Christmas sweater for Andrew?

Megan: Is this a joke or not a joke?

Christian: Not a joke. I want to give him one as a present. How much do you charge?

Megan: ??? Don’t be dumb. I’ll do it for free if you’re serious.

Christian: I’m serious and I’m paying you. How much?

Megan: It’s grand!! Just buy me a coffee.

Christian: This is why you’re making minus twenty quid a month.

Megan: It’s a hobby.

Christian: It’s a skill.

Megan: Buy me two coffees then.

Megan: guess what I’m a little grank.

Megan: Drank

Megan: drink

Christian: Drunk?

Megan: Yes!! ☺︎☺︎☺︎

Christian: Where are you?

Megan: In a taxi. His name is Hank.

Megan: The driver not the car.

Christian: I figured. Please tell me when you’re home.

Megan: ☺︎☺︎☺︎

Megan: Hank said the car does not have a name. ☹︎

Megan: I don’t get soup.

Christian: Is this you telling me you’re home?

Megan: I can eat it. I just don’t get it.

Christian: Please send me a picture of your apartment if you’re home.


Christian: Thank you.

Megan: It’s just liquid food.

Christian: Goodnight, Megan.

Megan: I told my mother. Think she bought the whole “just bumped into each other” thing.

Christian: Is that why she followed me on Instagram ten minutes ago?

Megan: SHE DID WHAT???

Christian: “Did you make that too?”

Megan: “No.”

Christian: “So you… exchanged money for it.”

Megan: “Do you not like my coat, Christian Fitzpatrick?”

Christian: “I love your coat. It’s very important to me that I’ll be able to see you in a blizzard.”

I run my hand over the beige leather seats, marveling at the feel of them as he gets behind the wheel.

Megan: “I think I’m attracted to your car.”

Christian: “Well, so am I, so that’s just another thing we have in common.

Megan: "What are you doing?”

I jolt as his hand lands on my thigh. Not my knee. My thigh. His big broad palm heavy and warm, his fingers wrapped around my leg.

Christian: “I’m touching you appropriately.”

Megan: “Inappropriately.”

I fight the urge to clench my legs together, knowing if I did, it would just trap him there.

Christian: “Appropriately for a girlfriend I’m madly in love with. You’re right; we can’t discuss PDA in contract terms every time I want to hold your hand.”

Megan: “Again, this is not holding my hand.”

Christian: “So tell me to stop. We’ll practice now.”

He drags his hand ever so slightly higher, moving closer to the danger zone. Even so, I bite my lip and say nothing, staying perfectly still until he hesitates, his eyes darting to mine.

Megan: “I didn’t say stop,”

I say, and his gaze narrows as I start to smile.

Christian: “Okay, see that? That laughing? That is not an appropriate reaction to my seduction. You should be incredibly turned on right now.”

Megan: “Well, move those fingers more, and I might be able to make it more believable.”

Megan: “What’s your favorite move in the bedroom?”

Christian: “Megan.”

Megan: “I’m serious. What if someone asks me? What if we’re having girl talk, and they ask me how good you are at sex?”

Christian: “I would hope you’d be charitable.”

Megan: “Come on.”

Christian: “I don’t have one.”

Megan: “Everyone has one. Tell me yours, and I’ll tell you mine.”

Christian: “Show me yours, and I might consider it.”

Megan: “That’s definitely not in the contract.”

He shakes his head but relents when it’s clear I’m just going to keep pestering him.

Christian: “It depends on the girl. On what she likes to— What?”

he asks, breaking off when I groan.

Megan: “On what she likes? Seriously? You’re such a liar.”

Christian: “Oh, well, apologies if you’ve only been with selfish lovers, Megan. I can’t help that I’m generous in the bedroom.”

Christian: “No one is generous in the bedroom. Or you think you are, but all you do is get her off, and then you’re like, cool, my turn.

He’s laughing now.

Christian: “I have never said—”

Megan: “It’s what you’re all thinking.”

Christian: “What’s your move then?”

he asks, glancing at me when I don’t respond.

Christian: “Come on.”

Megan: “I just did it,”

I say, doing it again.

Megan: “I do lots of pelvic floor exercises.”

He’s confused for an instant before recognition dawns on his face.

Christian: “That’s cheating.”

Megan: “I’ve had no complaints.”

Christian: “How did we go from knitting to this?”

Megan: “It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for,”

I say, and watch him smile as he makes a turn and drives us out of the city.

Christian: “Do you want to stop this? Because if you do, you need to tell me right now.”

Megan: “No. I’m not backing out. I swear, I’m just…”

She sighs.

Megan: “Isaac threw me. That’s all. But I wouldn’t do that to you, I promise. And I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have kissed you like that.”

Christian: “Kiss me like that anytime you need to. It’s what we agreed. Maybe a little more enthusiasm next time, but—”

I break off as she pretends to kick me, and I’m relieved to see she doesn’t look as miserable as she did.

Christian: “Alright then. We’re doing this.”

Megan: “We are.”

Megan: “What are you doing?”

she mumbles into my shoulder.

Christian: “Hugging you. This is a supportive hug. Plus, I think your mother is watching us from the window.”

I smile to myself as she stiffens and pull back to press a kiss to her cheek. Megan’s eyes widen in surprise. Behind her, the curtains twitch.

Christian: “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Megan: “Okay.”

Christian: “And Megan?”

She waits, her hands clenched into fists at her side.

Christian: “It’s a great coat.”

And finally, she smiles.

Megan: “What the… Aidan!”

A grunt comes from somewhere above my head.

Megan: “Move,”

I hiss, catching a whiff of beer as I try to push him off.

Aiden: “Merry Christmas.”

Ugh. I shove him again until he rolls partially over and hits the wall.

Megan: “Go to bed.”

Aiden: “I am in bed.”

Megan: “Your own bed.”

Aiden: “Your mattress is better.”

I tug my pillow away from him, squinting in the darkness. He’s left the door open, and from the soft light left on in the landing, I can just make out his face, flushed from the cold or, more likely, the alcohol. He’s grown in the few years he’s been away. Gone is the chubby-cheeked brat who used to terrorize me, and instead is a young man who seems to have inherited all of Mam’s best features. The straight brows, the square jaw, the brown eyes so much warmer than my own dull gray ones. He’s probably got a tan and everything, though I can’t tell in the dark.

I haven’t seen my brother in person in nearly two years, but right now, I couldn’t care less.

Megan: “Get out,”

I tell him when he doesn’t move.

Aiden: “I saw a massive spider in here the other day.”

Megan: “Shut up. No, you didn’t.”

Aiden: “How did you even meet?”

Megan: “In Dublin. He works there now.”

Aiden: “And you just… caught up like old friends.”

I plant a hand into the mattress, pushing myself into a sitting position. I am done with this conversation.

Megan: “You want to know if we had sex? You want to know if your sister made love? If she—”

I bat his arm away as he tries to cover my mouth.

Mam: “Did you sleep okay?”

Christian: “No. My room’s freezing.”

Mam: “Don’t exaggerate.”

Christian: “Fine. My room is very, very cold.

Andrew: “Hannah!”

Andrew yells before I can think of an excuse.

Andrew: “Someone’s here claiming to be your girlfriend? She’s way out of your league, though, so I’m not sure if I believe her.”

Mam: “Has no one offered the girl a drink?”

Molly: “I’m making coffee,”

Molly pipes up.

Mam: “And what about food? Are you hungry?”

Andrew: “We’re making lunch to go,”

Andrew says, as Hannah starts cutting thick slices of cheddar.

Andrew: “I’ve challenged your only daughter to a race to the death.”

Mam: “I’ll get your father to update the will,”

Christian: “She’s a vegetarian.”

I swear you’d hear a pin drop. Everyone’s attention goes to me, except for Colleen, whose eyes drop to the ham like she doesn’t know whether she should fling it out the window or not.

Christian: “Vegetarian,”

Christian repeats when no one says anything.

Christian: “Not a serial killer.”

Colleen: “What would you eat at Christmas then, Megan?”

Colleen asks, her voice too bright to be normal.

Andrew: “Oh, she can still eat turkey,”

Andrew says. Molly whacks his arm.

Christian: “You’re doing great,”

he whispers, and that’s when I come to understand that my new fake boyfriend is a big old liar.

Hannah: “My hand is cramping. I have essay cramp.”

Christian: “That’s not a thing.”

Hannah: “You know what will solve it? A vodka lime. Bought by you.”

Christian: “I drove. Why do I have to buy?”

Hannah: “Because I’m a poor student,”

Hannah: “I don’t think he likes you.”

Christian: “What?”

I look over to where he’s waiting at the bar, oblivious to my presence.

Christian: “What did I do?”

Hannah: “Date his sister?”

Christian: “He should be happy about that. I’m considered a real catch around here.”

Hannah: “Who considers that?”

Christian: “My mother,”

I say, and she rolls her eyes, flipping a coaster over and over again.

Christian: “This hand?”

I ask, dragging it higher.

Christian: “The one you’re making no move to stop?”

Megan: “I’m not going to stop you because you’re not going to do anything.”

Christian: “That a dare?”

Megan: “That’s a fact.”

Christian: “Sounds like a dare.”

Megan: “Christian—”

Christian: “Megan.”

Aiden: “Don’t treat Megan like she killed the guy.”

Sophie: “We’re not.”

Aiden: “You are. Maybe she was right to leave him, Soph, ever think of that? Maybe she didn’t marry him because he’s a boring, self-righteous dickhead, who wouldn’t know a joke if it laughed in his face.”

He takes a pointed swig of his beer as Sophie turns the full force of her glare on him, a glare he only smirks at.

Sophie: “You don’t even know him,”

Aiden: “He was at my house every day for ten years. I think I did.”

Sophie: “He’s a good guy.”

Aiden: “What an incredible endorsement. Write it on my tombstone.”

Megan: “Don’t do that,”

I say, trying to see if it’s bleeding.

Megan: “Is it broken?”

Christian: “I don’t know.”

Megan: “What does it feel like?”

Christian: “Like pain?”

Christian: “If I start crying, just remember that’s manly now,”

Christian says, following me blindly.

Christian: “Toxic masculinity is dead.”

It’s not going well.

Aiden: “You put the egg in the bagel. You bake the bagel. And then you have an egg bagel. It’s not hard, Meg.”

Megan: “Those eggs are too big.”

Aiden: “They’re not.”

Megan: “They are,”

I say, as he takes them out of the carton.

Megan: “They’re going to spill over the side.”

Aiden: “I made the hole bigger.”

Megan: “It’s going to spill.”

Aiden: “It’s not going to—”

Mam: “It’s a disaster,”

Mam shrieks, and Aidan drops the two eggs he’s holding. They fall to the tiles with a cartoonish splat, and I raise my coffee mug in a mock toast.

Megan: “Good job,”

I say, as he scowls.

Megan: “You alright, Mam?”

Megan: “My general approach to that part of my life has just been a real head-in-the-sand vibe. If I’m not there, it doesn’t exist. And if it doesn’t exist, it didn’t happen. It makes perfect sense in my mind.”

Christian: “Please tell me this isn’t something you learned in therapy.”

Megan: “Oh, no that’s all me. Much easier than whatever he told me to do.”

Megan: "Twenty-five years old, and I might as well have been a kid with how much I knew about being alone. I was terrified.”

Christian: “That sounds brave to me.”

Megan: “Being brave would have been stopping it months before it happened,”

she says with that little frown.

Megan: “There was nothing brave about letting it go on as long as it did. Spending the money, getting everyone’s hopes up.”

Christian: “A runaway bride is a lot cheaper than a divorce. And a lot more fun.”

Megan: “Stop trying to make me feel better.”

Christian: “Never.”

Christian: “This isn’t the kind of event where they bid on me, is it?”

Megan: “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

Christian: “I’m just saying if you want to make some real money, then—”

Christian: “Let’s get one thing straight. I make your sister happy. And that’s all I care about right now. So, I’m going to dance with her at her mother’s fundraiser. I’m going to get her champagne, and I’m going to talk her up to everyone here, and I am going to do all the things you pretend you want nothing to do with. And you? You can just fly back to Australia for all I care. You don’t get to come home and play the brother card just because it suits you. And what your sister does and who she does it with is none of your business.”

I clap him on the shoulder with more force than I should, and raise my voice.

Christian: “Merry Christmas, Aidan. Have a good night.”

Christian: “Is that why you didn’t tell me? Because you didn’t think I’d believe you?”

Megan: “No. That’s back to the embarrassment. I don’t like who I was back then. I didn’t want you to know me as her. I wanted you to think of me as I am now, and I… I wanted you to like me.”

I start on the buttons of his shirt, and my fingers trail down before Christian pins my wandering hands to the seat. I gasp loud enough that he pulls back to look at me.

Christian: “Are you okay?”

Megan: “Do that again.”

Christian: “What?”

Megan: “New kink, new kink,”

I tell him urgently, and he catches on, tightening his grip as he leans in to suck a hickey to my neck.

Christian: “I take it back. I don’t like this dress.”

Megan: “It’s not the dress’s fault,”

I protest, as his hand slides behind my neck.

Megan: “It didn’t know.”

Christian: “Next time we—”

Megan: “Next time?”

I tease, and he bites my bottom lip.

Christian: “You’re mouthy when you’re turned on. You know that?”

Megan: “This is where I make a joke about mouths, and how good I am at—”

I smile into the kiss as he presses me into the seat.

Megan: “I ruined your hair,”

I tell him as he rebuttons his shirt.

Christian: “I ruined yours.”

I shrug, tucking it behind my ears.

Megan: “Are we friends with benefits now?”

He tries and fails to hide his smile.

Megan: “What?”

Christian: “You say the weirdest things sometimes, you know that?”

Megan: “Is that a no?”

Christian: “I didn’t say that. You want to be?”

Megan: “Could be complicated.”

Christian: “Could be. We’d need to update our terms.”

Megan: “I can’t even remember our— No way.”

I gasp as he opens the dashboard compartment and takes out a familiar though now very crumpled cocktail napkin.

Megan: “You do not still have it.”

Christian: “Our extremely official contract?”

I pluck it from his hands, examining his neat handwriting.

Megan: “Number one. No tongue.”

Christian: “I don’t remember that bit.”

I hold out my palm.

Megan: “Pen. I know you have one,”

I add when he just looks at me. He hands me one from his side pocket, and I smooth the napkin out, making a careful line through the words.

Megan:Some tongue,”

I announce, adding in the correction.

Christian: “Much clearer.”

Megan: “We’ll figure it out.”

Mam: “We’re having the whole family around.”

Christian: “You want the whole family around for dinner three days before Christmas?”

Andrew: “She wants to practice vegan food,”

I sigh.

Christian: “Mam, she’s vegetarian, not vegan. Just don’t slip a turkey leg into her potatoes, and she’ll be fine.”

Andrew: “What about beef?”

Andrew asks, as our mother flusters behind him.

Andrew: “Can she eat beef?”

Christian: “I’m not talking to you this morning.”

Andrew: “What about chicken?”

Hannah: “Show me the pictures.”

Christian: “Of what?”

Hannah: “Of her dress.”

Christian: “Her dress?”

The main thing I remember about her dress was when I tugged down the bodice to suck on her—

Hannah: “Preferably with her in it,”

Hannah says, tearing into a piece of toast as I take out my phone.

Molly: “I’ll make it up to you,”

she says, her voice dropping to a low whisper. It’s only because I’m sitting right beside them that I can even hear her.

Molly: “I’ll do that thing you like where I—”

Christian: “No,”

I say loudly as Hannah looks at them like it’s the most romantic thing she’s ever seen.

Christian: “I’m eating.”

Andrew: “Go have fun. But I get to ruin a day in Zoe’s life of my choosing.”

Zoe: “Agreed,”

I snort.

Christian: “Just ask her tomorrow.”

Andrew: “We’re going to lose a whole night.”

Christian: “From the sounds of it, she doesn’t want to even be up there, anyway. How did you not know your girlfriend is afraid of the woods?”

Andrew: “Because every day I learn something new about her, Christian. It’s a blessing and a curse.”

Andrew: “I need you to go up there for me.”

Christian: “Excuse me?”

Andrew: “I ordered some special food that she likes on top of everything else. It’s supposed to arrive this morning. It’s just going to be sitting out there.”

Christian: “It’s a two-hour drive.”

Andrew: “What else are you doing?”

Christian: “What else are you? I’m spending the day with Megan.”

Andrew: “So, bring her too. Use the hot tub. I don’t care. Mi casa is literally su casa.

Christian: “Andrew—”

Andrew: “I’ve got to completely rethink everything I had planned and go to the bakery and tell them to delay the Kvæfjordkake.”

Christian: “The what?”

Andrew: “Kvæfjordkake,”

he repeats, completely serious.

Andrew: “It’s Norwegian.”

Christian: “And?”

Andrew: “I don’t know, Christian. It’s a cake! It’s her new favorite cake, and she found it last year, and she won’t shut up about it, so I got the recipe online, and I brought it to the bakery, and they’re making one for tomorrow at an extortionate price, but now I’ll have to—”

Christian: “I get it.”

Andrew: “Please. I’ll help you propose to Megan when it’s your turn.”

Christian: “If this is how you go about it, you’re not helping me propose to anyone.”

Andrew: “Do you remember when Mam found your stash in the shed, and I convinced her it was Liam’s?”

Christian: “No, because you didn’t convince her of anything. She didn’t believe you.”

Andrew: “Yes, but I tried, and—”

Christian: “Okay. I’ll do it.”

Molly: “Why are you trying to pick a fight with me?”

Aiden: “I’m not.”

Molly: “You are.”

I actually do laugh now, which seems to just make him madder.

Molly: “Has this got anything to do with last night? Christian said you had words with him.”

Aidan scowls.

Aiden: “He’s such a snitch.”

Molly: “I thought it was cute.”

He bats my hand away when I try to pinch his cheek.

Molly: “My overprotective little brother. Every sister should have one.”

Aiden: “I will throw you out of this car,”

Molly: “But then who will protect me? Who will— Ow.”

I glare at him as he flicks my arm, and rub it before it can bruise.

Zoe: “Right. So. Super fun update: we’re stuck.”

Christian: “Stuck where?”

Zoe: “On the road back from town with seemingly every car in Ireland. It’s bumper to bumper. Can you tell your Mam we won’t be at yours for dinner? And that we’ll probably die out here?”

He turns his body away from me in a real can’t see you, can’t see me move, but I’m already leaving him, heading back down to the kitchen, where I throw some plain crackers onto a plate and grab a large mixing bowl and some kind of fruity sports drink. I add them all to a tray I find next to the sink and carry them back up along with a glass of water.

Christian hasn’t moved an inch when I return, and he watches with groggy eyes as I set everything on the bedside table.

Christian: “What’s the bowl for?”

Megan: “It’s in case you throw up.”

I might as well have told him he was going to die.

Christian: “This isn’t happening.”

Megan: “You might not. Can you sit up?”

Christian: “Of course, I can sit up,”

he says hotly. But he doesn’t. I bite back a smile.

Megan: “You’re like a kitten,”

I tell him as I ease a pillow under his neck.

Megan: “Like a little newborn kitten.”

Christian: “Megan.”

My name is a warning, but I’m having far too much fun with him like this. I wish he wasn’t feeling like shit, but knowing how embarrassed he’ll be when he gets better makes it very funny to me.

Megan: "I know it sucks, but in all seriousness, you just need to rest and let me look after you.”

Christian: “Don’t look at me at all. If I look how I feel, I don’t want you looking at me.”

Megan: “I like looking at you,”

I say absently, and he goes very, very still.

Megan: “How are you okay with this? You wanted Christmas dinner with your family. I was going to big you up, remember?”

Christian: “Nah. What I wanted was to have a good Christmas.”

And I have a feeling that’s exactly what I’ve gotten.

Frankie: “Let me get this straight. You’re trapped in a luxury romantic cabin for Christmas with your pretend boyfriend who has made it clear that he is one hundred percent attracted to you.”

Megan: “Yes.”

Frankie: “And this is the same guy as before we’re talking about.”

Megan: “Yes.”

Frankie: “The super-hot one.”

Megan: “Yes,”

I hiss, drawing the curtains closed.

Frankie: “The super-hot guy you’re trapped in a cabin with wants to bone you and you want to bone him, but instead of either of you doing that, you’re hiding in your room and on the phone to me and are all like oh no, my reasons.

I pause.

Megan: “Well, when you say it like that…”

Frankie: “Just go for it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Whatever. You move on. You cut your hair short and buy a bunch of books you’re never going to read. C’est la vie.

Megan: “Maybe I should just go talk to him.”

Frankie: “No. Talking’s boring. Talking’s for non-trapped people on bad first dates in mid-priced restaurants. Go get lost in the woods.”

Megan: “No.”

Frankie: “Make him find you.”

Megan: “I’m going to talk with him.”

Christian: “You’re up.”

He says it accusingly like I’ve foiled his plan.

Megan: “You did all this?”

Christian: “Me? Nah. It’s a Christmas miracle.”

Megan: “And what’s that—”

I blush as my stomach grumbles, cutting me off.

Christian: “Smell?”

Christian asks with a knowing look.

Christian: “That’s the elves.”

Megan: “You’re cooking dinner?”

Christian: “I’m an incredible cook.”

Megan: “And so humble,”

Christian: “Do you ever think about your tendency to jump to the darkest possible conclusions?”

Megan: “You mean my survival instinct?”

she shoots back, looking around the porch as though searching for a weapon.

I bite back a smile.

Megan: “Eyes up here, buddy.”

Christian: “Nah, I’m good,”

he says, and laughs when I push him.

Christian: “We’ve got all night. And if it takes all night, then you might as well be comfy.”

Megan: “But—”

Christian: “Shhh,”

he whispers.

Christian: “I’m seducing you.”

Megan: “This is the spoon. And this is the Nutella jar.”

I can only stare as Megan places both items on the counter, her expression deadly serious.

Christian: “So when you said you couldn’t cook,”

I begin, but she decides to demonstrate.

Megan: “The spoon goes into the Nutella jar—”

Christian: “Can you at least put it on some toast?”

Megan: “It’s Christmas Day. If I can’t eat chocolate spread for breakfast on Christmas Day, then when can I?”

She taps the jar.

Megan: “I feel like you’re not in the festive spirit.”

Christian: “I feel like you need to eat a bag of spinach.”

Megan: “Stop staring at me,”

she says, as we dig into our breakfasts.

Christian: “Never.”

Megan: “I’m eating.”

Christian: “I know. The way you have Nutella all over your chin?”

Megan: “Yeah?”

Christian: “Hottest thing I’ve ever seen,”

I say, and she dips her spoon into the jar again.

Christian: “You’re really going to finish the whole thing, aren’t you?”

Megan: “Most important meal of the day. And—”

She gasps as I lean forward, closing my lips over the spoon.

Megan: “A thief. That’s what you are.”

Molly: “We did call. And text. But looks like you two were too busy to check your— Christian!”

She covers her own eyes as I get up, accidentally flashing her before I can remember my own lack of clothing.

Molly: “Put some clothes on. I don’t want to see you naked.”

Christian: “Words I’ve never heard before.”

Andrew: “Christian,”

Andrew warns, and I shrug my jeans on.

Megan: “Don’t just stand there,”

I say, gesturing at them as Christian does just that.

Megan: “Do something.”

Christian: “Like what?”

Megan: “Like help.”

He looks surprised.

Christian: “Aidan’s holding his own.”

Oh, for the love of—

Megan: “I don’t mean help him, I mean help me. We need to break them apart.”

Christian: “They’ll tire themselves out eventually,”

he says, only to sigh when I glare at him.

Christian: “You could have at least waited until Aidan got a few hits in.”

Megan: "Mam says you moved into the cottage by the church.”

She nods.

Sophie: “It has asbestos and I’m pretty sure it’s haunted.”

Megan: “Wonderful.”

Andrew: “I should have just done it in public. I should have put her on the spot and forced her hand.”

Christian: “He’s joking,”

I tell Megan as I notice movement up ahead.

Andrew: “Am I, Christian? Am I?”

Christian: “Andrew—”

Andrew: “I could have got someone to film it, made us go viral. And then what can she do? Not cash in on our newfound fame?”

Molly: "And I felt awful because I ruined your proposal.”

Andrew: “And I ruined yours.”

He doesn’t sound very guilty about it.

Andrew: “You got my ring size from a Christmas cracker?”

Molly: “You said it fit you like a glove.”

His mouth moves like he’s trying not to smile.

Andrew: “I remember.”

She rolls her eyes, hiccupping slightly.

Molly: “You’re laughing at me.”

Andrew: “Yeah. I am.”

Christian: “Welcome to the family,”

I tell Molly as she embraces me next.

Christian: “You guys still have dowries, right?”

Molly: “I’m such an idiot,”

she mutters into my shoulder.

Christian: “Yeah, but you’re our idiot now.”

Dad: “I’m sorry I implied you didn’t care for her.”

Christian: “You weren’t completely off base. Not like I ever had a real relationship before.”

Dad: “Just because they weren’t meant to last forever doesn’t mean they weren’t real.”

Christian: “Doesn’t mean they were good for me either,”

Megan: “They’re bath salts.”

Mam: “Of course, they are!”

Mam croons, examining the tub of pink crystals.

Mam: “And they’re French! How lovely.”

Aidan gives me a look from across the room.

Mam: “Thank you both very much,”

she continues, and I roll my eyes.

Megan: “Okay. You’re overdoing it.”

Mam: “No, really,”

she says, reading the label.

Mam: “I always say I need to take more baths.”

Christ. I should have just made her another scarf.

In our annual tradition of bad gifts, my brother got me a book of slow-cooker recipes for one, which made me glad I’d gotten him a jazz compilation CD.

Aiden: “I don’t like jazz. Or have a CD player.”

Mam told him off for being ungrateful.

Aidan snorts but relaxes a little as he grabs my hand, looping his pinkie finger briefly with mine. I’m confused.

Megan: “What was that?”

Aiden: “I don’t know. But we don’t have a secret handshake, so I thought we should do something.”

Megan: “We could hug?”

Aiden: “Eh.”

Christian: “It’s a surprise. A big one.”

Megan: “The last time you had a big surprise, you took me to see taxidermy, and I don’t— what the…”

I trail off, gaping as he brings us to a stop.

Megan: “Oh, you know what we should do? We should get —”

Christian: “I have so many marshmallows, you will never want to eat one again,”

he tells me, and I beam.

Megan: “Great minds.”

Christian: “I’ve been searching for something my whole life, and nothing’s ever clicked. And I think it’s because I was looking for you.”

His voice turns thick.

Christian: “I’m falling in love with you,”

he says and my heart squeezes like a fist.

Christian: “I’m falling hard and fast and I don’t want to stop. But I don’t expect you to feel the same way. I swear, I don’t. We can take this slow, and if that means breaks or time apart, then we can do that. But I want you to know where I stand. I want to spend next Christmas with you, Megan. And every day in between. I want to wake up knowing I’m going to see you. I want to know everything there is to know about you and I want to start right now.”

Christian: “You let me say all that when you felt the same way?”

Megan: “You’re clearly feeling so much. It’s good to get it off your chest.”

Megan: “Take me on a date. A real one. Our first one.”

Christian: “I can do that. And then?”

And then?

Megan: “Everything,”

Megan: “What’s Christmas without your family annoying you?”

Christian: “A really good one?”

Christian: “I missed you last night.”

Megan: “No, you didn’t. You were playing minigolf with Andrew.”

Christian: “But thinking of you the entire time.”

Megan: “How romantic,”

Christian: “I get first dance, by the way,”

Christian says, snapping my attention back to the present.

Christian: “And the last.”

I hesitate.

Megan: “I promised your dad I’d dance with him first, so—”

Christian: “Megan.”

Megan: “I’m sorry! You’ve got to get in there quick. I’m in high demand.”

Christian: “Apparently,”

Christian says, but he doesn’t look too mad.

Molly: “Okay. I’m ready. Let’s get this over with.”

Christian: “Ah, true love,”

Christian sighs and we join the party for the elevators.


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