She’s in love with her best friend’s brother.
He’s in love with his sister’s best friend.
And their story begins with a perfect kiss.
Millie Carton has been part of the Mayers family since early childhood and spending Christmas together is a tradition she can’t miss. Except the annual celebration comes with a caveat and his name is Dave Mayers.
Millie’s handsome ex is a distraction she can’t deny. The skilled police officer she’s been in love with the day she left her foster home has cuffed her heart to his a long time ago and he’s not giving up on the love of his life.
With the family’s encouragement and support, Dave is about to get the chance he’s been waiting for. Their gimmicks are shameless and their advice is persuasive. And this season, they may just get their wish.
Welcome, to Millie Cartlon’s Christmas and the best gift she’s received in a long time - a perfect kiss. Join Millie and Dave as they reignite their scorching romance and prepare to burn the past’s bridges, in Perfectly Kissed.
Note: Perfectly Kissed is a short prequel to Perfectly Loved with a HFN (Happy for Now ending). Intended for mature audience only.
★★★★★ “This was a quick read but an adorable story. The characters are remarkable and have intense chemistry. Millie's doubts hold her back from finding true happiness. Christmas Eve and an unexpected visit help her see what she really wants! Cute story!” ~ Reviewer
“Let me go!” I slammed my fists into Dave’s hard chest.
“Easy there, buttercup,” his deep voice vibrated above me, sending an uncomfortably delicate chill up my arms.
“I said, Let. Me. Go.”
He finally released his tight grip from around my hand. It didn’t hurt – in fact, I sort of regretted pulling away from him – but being so close to this man was too dangerous. Way too dangerous. It brought up too many memories, both good and bad.
“You know, there was a time when you begged to be in my arms.” He stepped closer and I backed away, losing my footing on the icy porch once again. Dave caught me and I fell right into him for the second time.
“You mean, when I was young and stupid?” Despite my resolve to be strong, my voice quivered.
“No, I mean, when you still believed in us.”
Us. There was no ‘us.’ There never could be an ‘us.’ But as I tried to hold fast to my argument for why we could never be together, I connected my gaze with his, which was a mistake. His beautiful green eyes were doing that magical thing where I couldn’t look away. And I didn’t even believe in magic. Earth’s orbital cycles; twenty-four hour days; fresh rain hitting your face on a cloudy day; the smell of spring — those things were magical, but real. Nature was real, and life was balanced until men disturbed it. Where was I? Oh, yeah, Dave’s eyes. They were like a cat’s – better yet, a wild black panther’s who’d never seen humankind and wanted to sink its teeth into their neck. Actually, make that my neck. He’d lick before biting and kiss before sucking the skin, tasting it before he owned it. That’s how I remembered Dave’s lips, tongue, and the gentle scrape of his teeth on me.
The spicy smell of cinnamon and nutmeg caught my nose, and the heat of his lips touched near my dimple. Oh, God!
“Merry Christmas, Millie.”
Danger! Danger! The alarm bells in my head weren’t loud enough to overpower the sound of his voice and the thumping of his heart. See what I meant about magical? Dave had a way of zapping me right out of this world with one long look. Actually, he completely whacked my life out of orbit each time he was close, making it that much more difficult to stay away.
“Why, Millie? Just tell me why we can’t be together so that I can move on. It’s been seven years. Please?” His eyes were sad, begging for an explanation I couldn’t give him. How could I tell the only person I had loved in my life that he couldn’t give me what I needed? What I needed was something safe and a way not to ever hurt anyone again. Zen was my middle name, and if my emotions remained balanced, the natural energy surrounding me would lead me forward.
“I… I’m sorry. I should go in.”
“Wait.” He held me steady and pointed up. I followed his gaze up to where a sprig of mistletoe hung underneath the porch roof.
“We gotta kiss.” He still had that same sly smirk on his face, identical to when he was eighteen, the year we met. Jesus, that was so long ago. So many years later, he still affected me the same way he did when I walked into that high school. “It’s tradition.”
No way. Kissing him would be the equivalent of a nuclear bomb falling on top of me. I couldn’t control the outcome of his lips on mine. It would be a disaster; a wonderful disaster, but still - a disaster. I’d melt, disintegrate, fall apart, and no one could ever put me back together again. I shook my head, creating the maximum distance he would allow between us—which wasn’t much. It was just enough to get a breath of frozen air inside my lungs and frost my heart all over again.
“I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and shit a better argument than that,” I spat back. “You’re never touching my lips again.”
I finally managed to wiggle out of his comfortable arms and pushed past him into the cabin.
Aha! The culprit behind it all was hanging another one of those green and red plants in the hallway.
“You’ve got to stop doing that, April.” I ripped down the mistletoe.
“But it’s tradition.”
I shook my head. Being best friends – actually self-adopted sisters – with the baby sister of the man whom you had once loved had its consequences. Sometimes they were too alike. I had come into the Mayers family over a decade ago, and they never made me feel like an outsider. We were all one, and I was grateful for all the love they’d given me. Yes, often, and especially the past few years that Dave and I weren’t together, it would get awkward, but there was no way I’d cast these people aside because of one bad relationship. This family was everything to me. They were all I had.
“Tradition, my ass. How can you put this up when your brothers are in the house? Do you really want to risk kissing one of them? That’s like… incest. Gross!” I stuck my tongue out in disgust.
“First of all, I’m putting these up for you,” she looked at me knowingly. “And second of all, blood relatives kiss on cheeks, hug, and make good wishes.”
If Dave had kissed me on the cheek already, why was he insisting on another one?
“Can I wish to be elsewhere?” I whined.
Zen, balance, no whining – or you’ll end up in a pig pen.
“Come on, Millie. Where’s your Christmas spirit?” Dave pushed past me and slapped me gently on my ass. I should have known that he’d take my comeback – in fact anything I said to him – as an invitation to get closer.
“Hey!” I said. “I am the Christmas spirit.”
Would he ever give up? I guessed deep down inside, somewhere near that frozen heart of mine that had to be sealed off from Dave Mayers, it felt nice to be wanted. But it also hurt at the same time, especially when you knew there was nothing you could do about it. Well, technically I could, but that would definitely end in an apocalypse. A big bang-type of a catastrophe, actually. Of course, the big bang wasn’t a catastrophe; it was the beginning – but each beginning had an end, as well. Maybe April was right and I should just slow down with the teachings of Dalai Lama because it just all kept messing with my brain. That’s what happened when someone like me, an uneducated former foster kid, tried to process too much information.
Having been without a stable family of my own ever since I could remember, each year I was blessed to celebrate the holidays with April, her son Parker, Dave and his twin brother Justin, as well as their father and the patriarch of the family, Christopher Mayers. They took me in and treated me as if I were one of their own. And things had been good for a little while. In fact, they were really good — probably the best years of my life. But now I was older and wiser. Now I understood that my true destiny was to be alone. That way, no one would hurt me — especially the male half of the population. And more importantly, my troubles were less likely to follow others.
“What you are is all talk, pancake.” Dave winked.
“What I am is annoyed.” I rolled my eyes. “I thought you were supposed to be helping Justin get the wood.”
“I’ve got all the wood I need when you’re around.”
He lowered his hands on his hips and jutted out his crotch. Only from my experience, I knew that the generous bulge there wasn’t even hard. If he were hard, he’d be tearing at the seams.
“Oh, come on! Gross! I’m still here. Why don’t you two get a room, hump the heck out of each other, let go of the stress, let bygones be bygones and all that crap, and everything will be right with the universe again.”
Sometimes I wished my widowed friend would find herself a man. That way she’d have someone else to concentrate on.
“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Dave said with pride.
“Remember when I asked your opinion? Me neither.” I then turned to April: “You’re a traitor, and karma is a bitch!”
“Isn’t that what you want, Millie? For the universe to finally be balanced?” Dave echoed behind me, following me like a puppy dog. It’d be cute if he were a puppy, but Dave was a mature hound, all the time focused on me as if I were in heat twenty-four seven.
And a balanced universe would be one where the hunky-dory piece of meat that was Dave Mayers would turn into an ugly toad so that I could easily resist him. This buff cop was a sin waiting to happen. I probably should have seen that as a good quality, but not when the money he made was one of the many reasons why we weren’t together.
“The day we are in bed together is the day that the universe gets sucked into a black hole.”
“Sucking and holes - now we’re talking.”
“Shh, there’s a child in the room!” I pointed to Parker, my godson (who also happened to be Dave’s godson), who was sitting by the dimming fireplace in the family room with his beats on, bopping his head. I guessed he’d gotten those from his uncle as an early Christmas gift.
Yes, I had a tendency to mention Parker to change the subject. He was like the best contraceptive against Dave, if there ever was one, because Dave and Simon - Parker’s deceased father - hadn’t gotten along. Dave blamed himself that he hadn’t stopped April from marrying Simon just because she’d gotten pregnant. But now he was gone. And like I said, the universe had a way of finding a balance. It selfishly made me happy for April that he was gone, but I wasn’t about to ruin Christmas for my best friend by mentioning her deceased husband, whom she still thought about. But between me and Mother Earth, well, we were grateful that he’d made space for another, better human being, and himself became compost over at Crossover Cemetery.
I put the kettle on and set the cup with a pouch of chamomile tea, waiting.
The front door opened and Justin stepped through, carrying a load of wood for the fireplace. He looked so much like, and yet was so different, from his fraternal twin brother that sometimes I wondered whether they’d sprung from the same womb. Although a cop, Justin at least had the right idea about life. Live free; don’t worry, be happy; let the Zen guide you. When I was still with Dave, April often teased us that I’d fallen for the wrong brother. I disagreed. Opposites attract, even if they weren’t always meant to be. Looking at the brothers as they stacked the wood at the side of the fireplace, I had no regrets. Our relationship had taught me an important lesson: that not all pain was worth it.
So why was I always so sad on the inside? What was missing in my life? I’d searched for that feeling of completeness, and nothing ever fit the bill. Nothing… except Dave. Well, that was a lost cause anyway. I walked to the first step of the staircase, fastened the mistletoe back onto the ceiling, and then hugged my friend.
“I’m sorry, April. You’re right. It’s Christmas. And I promise you that I’ll be the green little elf of happiness this season.”
At least I would try.
“And you will kiss on the cheek and wish luck to anyone you meet under here?”
I sighed, kissed her on the cheek, and hugged her, making a mental note to walk around that spot for the remainder of our three-day stay.
“Of course I will. I wish you happiness,” I then leaned in closer to her ear, “and for you to find Mr. Healthy Zucchini and dump Mr. Pinkie.”
She gave me a look of warning not to talk about the man she’d just dumped, and rightfully so. Pinkie, as we’d nicknamed him, wasn’t worth it for all the reasons that his nickname implied.
“I wish for you to find that happiness as well. I love you.” She squeezed her arms around me.
“I love you too,” I said to her, yet my eyes flew to Dave’s sad emeralds. Sad but determined - he held my gaze until I looked away.