The Christmas Dare

By: Lori Wilde

Chapter 1

On a Christmas-scented Saturday morning in early December, Dallas’s newly elected mayor, Filomena James, walked her only surviving daughter, Kelsey, down the pew-packed aisle of the lavishly decorated Highland Park United Methodist Church.

She slipped her arm through her daughter’s, and off they went to the instrumental score of “Let Me Tell You About My Boat.” Filomena had insisted on music hipper than “The Wedding March” for her child’s big day.

Bucking the old guard.

That was how she won her mayoral seat. Filomena was innovative, clever, and resourceful. Never mind that Kelsey was a traditionalist. After all, Filomena was the one shelling out the big bucks for this shindig, and to quote her campaign buttons, she was the “rebel with a cause.”

She’d insisted on the December wedding date, so as not to conflict with her mayoral bid. In mild protest, Kelsey put up a feeble fuss. Her daughter was not a fan of December in general or Christmas in particular. But as always, Filomena had prevailed.

“Lucky” for Kelsey, Mama knew best.

Everything was going as Filomena had planned. That is, until the groom hightailed it for the exit, elbows locked with his best man.

Fifteen minutes later, back in the bridal room of the church, Kelsey sat as calm as a statue, ankles crossed demurely, feet tucked underneath the bench, expression mild. Her waist-length hair twisted high in an elegant braided chignon. A bouquet of white roses and a crumpled, handwritten Dear Jane letter were lying in her lap.

Sounds of car doors slamming and hushed voices stirring gossip drifted in through the partially opened window.

The poor thing.

Do you think Kelsey suspected Clive was gay?

How does Filomena recover from this?

Exhaling deeply, Kelsey hid her smile as relief poured through her. Okay, sprinkle in a dab of sadness, a jigger of regret, and a dollop of I-do-not-want-to-face-my-mother, but other than that, Clive’s abrupt adios hadn’t peeled her back too far.

Hey, it wasn’t the most embarrassing thing that had ever happened to her. She’d get through this.

Filomena paced. As if struck by a hundred flyswatters all slapping at once, her cheeks flushed scarlet. Black Joan Crawford eyebrows pulled into a hard V. “Do you have any idea how humiliated I am?” she howled.

“I’m sorry, Mother,” Kelsey said by rote.

“This is your fault. If you’d slept with Clive, as I told you to, instead of sticking to that wait-until-the-wedding nonsense, I would not be on the hook for this nightmare.”

“Yes, Mother. You’re right. You’re always right.”

Filomena’s scowl lessened. “Well, at least you admit it.”

Kelsey’s best friend, Tasha Williams, who’d been standing by the door, lifted the hem of her emerald green, charmeuse maid of honor dress and strode across the small room to toe off with the mayor-elect.

“Are you frigging kidding me?” Tasha’s deep brown eyes narrowed and she planted her hands onto her hips, head bobbing as she spoke. “Kels got stood up, not you.”

Yay, you. Grateful, Kelsey sent her friend a thank-you smile.

“The media will eat me for dinner over this.” Through flinty eyes, Filomena’s glower could wither houseplants to dust.

Uh-oh, Kelsey knew the look far too well. A clear signal to give her mother a Grand Canyon–sized berth.

“Have an inch of compassion, you witch.” Tasha glared lasers at Filomena.

Proud that her bestie had not called her mother a “bitch” when she knew the word was searing the end of Tasha’s tongue, Kelsey cleared her throat. Long ago, she’d learned not to throw emotional gasoline on her mother’s fits of pique. Courting head-to-toe, third-degree burns was not her favorite pastime.

“What did you say to me?” A sharp, cutting tone curdled her mother’s voice. Her icy stare could quell Katniss Everdeen.

Gulping, Tasha couldn’t quite meet Filomena’s eyes. “Just . . . just . . . have a heart, dammit. She’s your daughter.”

“Don’t you lecture me, you little upstart.” Filomena shoved her face in front of Tasha’s nose.

In a soothing, even tone, Kelsey pressed her palms downward. “Mom, I’m fine here. Please, go do damage control. You’ll find a way to turn this to your advantage. You’re a master at spinning gold from straw.”

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