The Christmas Brides of Twilight
Twilight, Texas: Book 14
“Are you famous?”
Noelle Curry glanced up from her cell phone to see the Uber driver, who’d picked her up at DFW airport, grinning at her in the rearview mirror.
Ugh. She didn’t get recognized nearly as often as her actor mother, but unlike Crescenda, she didn’t welcome the attention.
“No,” she said, because in her mind she wasn’t.
“Yeah, yeah, you are. I saw you on a daytime talk show. You’re her. You’re the Wedding Whisperer.”
One show. She’d been on one measly morning talk show and now she couldn’t check her text messages in peace. Eek.
“You have a sharp eye.”
The guy beamed. “That’s a big compliment coming from you. According to the talk show host, you’re the Queen of Intricate Detail.”
That was a kind way of putting it. Her mother called it anal.
“You live in LA?” he asked.
“And your mother is Crescenda Hardwick?”
Noelle sighed. “She is.”
“That’s how you got a leg up.”
If her movie star mother hadn’t been married five times and had lots of friends who also got married as often as some people changed their hair color, Noelle wouldn’t have had the opportunity to plan celebrity weddings at such a young age. But while Crescenda might have given her the opportunity, it was Noelle’s efficient organizational skills that had built her successful business, Once Upon a Wedding.
“I love your mom’s movies.”
“Sweet Summer Sunshine is my fav.”
“That was her first blockbuster.”
The driver, named Chet, was fortyish, on the scrawny side, and reminded her of the bumbling deputy on a TV program her maternal grandparents had watched in endless reruns when she visited them every summer right here in Twilight, Texas.
A wisp of sadness slipped through her. Grammie and Grampie had been gone thirteen years now, and she hadn’t been back to Twilight since she was fifteen. But fond memories of the small lakeside tourist town where her beloved grandparents had retired to when Grampie left a lifelong career at Delta Airlines in Georgia, stayed with her.
Because of her appearance on the talk show, The Tie, a media and technology company that paired engaged couples with wedding planning services across the US, invited her to be the official wedding planner for their annual Christmas Bride essay contest.
Vying to have their wedding completely paid for by The Tie, contestants sent in an essay about their love story and Noelle was the final round judge. Among the contenders, she’d been thrilled to discover an essay penned by identical twin sisters who’d fallen in love with identical twin brothers. The icing on the cake? The twins, Sierra and Sienna Buckhorn, were from Twilight.
Now, she’d be spending the six weeks leading up to the Christmas Eve double wedding in the place that had been her only source of stability during her chaotic childhood.
This trip was, in effect, a homecoming.
They drove pass the quaint billboard welcoming them to town. Twilight, Texas was one of those idyllic villages that typified small-town America. Founded in the late 1880s, the town worked hard to maintain the old west façade. Texas and American flag flew from the poles and porches of old Victorian homes and quaint craftsman style cottages.
Noelle’s heart skipped a beat as the black SUV motored down the main thoroughfare, heading toward the charming town square that was listed in the National Historic Register. To the right, Lake Twilight glistened silvery blue in the morning sunlight. Straight ahead, a banner stretched across the road announcing, Santa Polar Plunge, Friday, November 17th.
That was today.
“Isn’t it a little early for Christmas events?”
“Not for Twilight,” Chet, the driver said. “They get into the spirit right after Halloween.”
“What about Thanksgiving?”
“That’s what the Turkey Trot and the Harvest Fair is for.”
As the signal light turned red, Chet halted at the intersection directly underneath the banner. The marina overflow parking was on one side of the road, the shimmering lake on the other. From the jam-packed lot, a thick crowd of people milled about. Many had cell phones out, snapping pictures as a white delivery van pulled to a stop and the back door flew opened…
And a passel of Santas tumbled out.
Curious, Noelle googled “what is a group of Santas called” and learned, to her delight, it was called a sleigh.
There was a least two dozen of them—youthful, aged, slender, plump, Black, White, male, female—a diversity of Santas.
Tickled by the sight, Noelle giggled. “What’s going on here?”
“It’s the annual polar plunge benefiting the Special Olympics,” Chet told her. “Twilight puts their twist on it by having participants dress as Santa.”
“They’re going to dive into the lake?”
“It’s got to be freezing.”
“That’s the point.”
Noelle herself had once plunged into those azure waters, but only in the swelter of a Texas summer as her grandparents watched from a blanket spread over the sandy beach. Even then, a poor swimmer, she’d never ventured far from shore.
She studied the Santas crossing the road in front of the SUV, the crowd trailing behind them. There was one Santa, taller than all the rest, strolling in the middle of the pack. He had his chin up, his shoulders back and he moved with a relaxed, loose-limbed stride that commanded her attention.
This was no traditional, ho-ho-ho, lap-sitting Santa Claus. He was young for one thing, probably near her own age, and he was ripped as hell, his biceps bulging at the seams of his red and white suit. Even beneath the faux white beard, she could see his angular jaw was chiseled and his cheekbones high. His jingle bell hat was cocked rakishly to one side, and he wore his thick black belt slung low on his lean hips.
Oh Santa, she thought inanely, you can come down my chimney any old time.
As the Santas hit the curb on the lake side of the street, they started taking off their clothing—doffing caps, unbuckling belts, slipping off their fur-trimmed jackets.
Her jaw unhinged as tall Santa took off his top, revealing that indeed, he pumped iron regularly. His abs were taut and toned and she could make out every striate of well-honed muscles. There was something about him that seemed so familiar.
Did she know him?
But how could she? She hadn’t been in Twilight for thirteen years. Surely, anyone she’d known back then would have changed so much as to be unrecognizable. She had certainly altered her appearance—dropping twenty pounds, exchanging glasses for contact lenses, getting her unruly curls professionally straightened and lightened.
Tall Santa laughed and said something to the Santa next to him. He angled his head toward her and in the sunlight, she caught a glimpse of his light blue eyes just as the dimple in his right cheek deepened.
Goodness! Thirteen years might have passed, but she’d know those lively eyes and that fetching dimple anywhere.