You’ve seen Mark Darcy in the reindeer jumper his mother gave him, now meet Marco Cavelli in this season’s Christmas knit!
For single mum Maggie, Christmas has always been a family occasion – her daughter Ellen filling the house with her bubbly warmth and mistletoe, her dad Paddy having one too many festive tipples, and the traditional family Christmas tree looking like a drunken elf vomited a rainbow all over it.
But this year, with both Ellen and Paddy away for the holidays, Maggie’s facing a truly blue Christmas – alone with nothing but a bottle of Baileys and an M&S turkey dinner.
Until walking the snowy streets of Oxford, Marco Cavelli quite literally crashes into her life – and, complete with broken leg, becomes her unexpected houseguest. All dreamy brown eyes and 6’5” of gorgeousness, the man is hotter and more delicious than a freshly baked mince pie.
Though Maggie always thought it’s a truth universally acknowledged that you never kiss a man in a Christmas jumper?
The next FABULOUS book from Debbie Johnson, author of best-selling Christmas number one, ‘Cold Feet at Christmas’ and the summer hit ‘Pippa’s Cornish Dream’.
EXTRACT Chapter 3
The second time she saw him, she had her head up Gaynor Cuddy’s skirt. Gaynor was the first of her Christmas brides, and had come in for her final fitting. She was a larger-than-life girl, Gaynor, and had ordered an even larger dress – in fact, Maggie had decided, it was entirely suitable to feature in an episode of Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. Even if Gaynor wasn’t, to her knowledge, a gypsy, and instead worked as a call centre manager and lived in quite a swish flat off the Woodstock Road with her boyfriend Tony.
Hooped and embroidered to within an inch of its life, the frock was pretty much done. It had taken over a year to make, and about three miles of satin and tulle to construct. She’d exhausted the stock of every faux pearl merchant within a 100 mile radius, and risked permanent curvature of the spine, hunched over attaching them
Now, after much trial and tribulation and detailed accounts of how little Gaynor had had to eat for the last month, it was perfect. Or, more accurately, it was perfect for Gaynor. Some of her other clients would faint with shock, but Gaynor was happy – and that was all that mattered to Maggie.
The reason she head her head up the skirt was to fiddle with the bridal under-garments. In keeping with the OTT frock, Gaynor had decided she wanted to have a garter belt that could double as a gun holster – where she planned on hiding a small fake pistol to whip out for comedy effect after the ceremony. It wasn’t an everyday request, but perfectly doable with a bit of fast stitching and the occasional dollop of cheat glue.
She’d normally be doing this in the fitting room, but, well. It just wasn’t big enough – so she was out on the shop floor of Ellen’s Empire, crawling around in discarded scraps of material and the stray threads of cotton that always seemed to coat the tiles, no matter how much she swept up.
As she worked, the hoop held over her head, Gaynor rattled on about the reception (200 of their closest friends, including Maggie), and their honeymoon (the Seychelles, not including Maggie), and the fact that she planned to eat her own bodyweight in Terry’s Chocolate Orange the minute the dress was off, before she did anything else at all. Tony would undoubtedly be delighted with that schedule.
Maggie couldn’t hear everything clearly, and just kept shouting the occasional encouraging sound as she practised inserting the little gun into the holster, and pulling it back out to test its quick draw qualities. Yup. It seemed to be working just fine, and would definitely make for an entertaining photo or seven. Not quite a shotgun wedding, but she got the gag.
As she decided she was finally happy, she slipped the gun out again. It, too, was decorated with faux pearls – and had been filched from a Calamity Jane fancy dress outfit Gaynor had found online. Maggie took one more deep breath before trying to fight her way out again, carefully lifting the hooping, listening to the swish of acres of material, before crawling back out.
At exactly that moment – with her backside inching away, head still submerged in Gaynor’s flounce – the doorbell to the shop rang. Perfect timing. She should really have flipped the sign to ‘closed’.
Maggie climbed to her feet, wiping multi-coloured threads off the knees of her jeans, and turned to face her visitor. Gaynor giggled, and she realised she was brandishing the fake pistol in his direction.
“Don’t shoot! I’ll go peacefully!” he said, face creasing into a grin. A grin she recognised. The grin that belonged to the Man from the Park.
Her face already flushed from getting way too up close and personal with Gaynor’s stockinged thighs, she tucked a wild lock of her hair behind her ear, and tried not to look embarrassed. There was, she told herself, nothing to be embarrassed about. Certainly, she’d just crawled out from another woman’s crotch, and yes, she was pointing a toy gun at him. But he didn’t know that she recognised him. That she’d been ruthlessly mocked by her own daughter for leching over him. That several times, often late at night, she’d found herself remembering him – his height, the wide shoulders, the easy way he carried his bulk. The infectious love he’d obviously felt for his toddler son.
The toddler in question was also with him, and staring wide-eyed at the huge dress. Once his mind had processed it, he ambled towards the table that held Maggie’s small but perfectly formed Christmas tree. She’d made all the decorations herself with spare white silk and taffeta, and sprinkled them with glitter. It was...tasteful. Definitely a lot more tasteful than the one she had at home, which looked like a drunken elf had vomited a rainbow all over it.
The boy reached out, hands grubby from some chocolatey treat, and the man immediately walked over towards him and gently but firmly pulled him away.
“No, Luca – you have to be decontaminated before you touch anything like this.”
The child looked up at him, obviously debating whether he could make a break for it.
“No want show!” he said, defiantly, stamping one wellington-clad foot.
“I know you don’t want a shower, but you’re gonna get one – just as soon as we’re finished here.”
He hoisted the little boy up into arms that – Maggie couldn’t help but notice – were delightfully big and brawny. She had a momentary flash of him in Russell Crowe’s Gladiator outfit and felt her cheeks burn even brighter. She reminded herself that in reality, he was wearing yet another Christmas jumper – this one featuring Santa Claus with a bobble on his hat. He must have a collection of them at home.
“That’s okay,” she said, walking towards the tree and picking off one of the decorations. “These were made by Christmas pixies. They left a load of them – you can take one with you, if you like?”
The child looked at her, and looked at the sparkling bow she was holding out. Then he looked at the man, eyes big and hopeful. After getting a nod of approval, the boy grabbed it out of her hand as fast as one of those frogs catching a fly on a nature video. Scary reflexes.
“Thank you,” said the man. “That’s really kind. He’ll probably try and eat it, but what the hell...I was wondering if you could help me with a suit that needs altering. I have a Christening to go to, and my own got lost on the ‘plane journey over from the States. I got the nearest I could find, but...well, it’s a little on the tight side.”
Maggie bit back a small gulp, and laid a hand on the Christmas table for support.
“I bet!” piped up Gaynor, with perfect comic timing, “you’re the size of the jolly green giant!”
“Not gween!” replied Luca, before promptly stuffing the corner of the Christmas ribbon into his chocolate-coated mouth.
“Oh...I see...well, I’m really sorry, but I don’t do men...” Maggie stammered, realising as she said it that she might possibly have created the wrong impression. Or, unintentionally, the right one – she hadn’t actually done a man in many years. Her friend Sian said she was convinced ‘it’ had grown over again now, like when you leave your ear-rings out too long. Sian was classy like that.
He raised his eyebrows, his wide mouth managing to somehow smile with the upward tilt of just one corner. Gawd, she thought, he had a gorgeous mouth.
“I mean I don’t do men’s clothes. Obviously.”
“Obviously,” he replied, seeming to be quite enjoying her blush-a-thon. “Well, can you recommend anyone? Anyone who does do men?”
“I do men!” said Gaynor, before guffawing like Barbara Windsor after three bottles of Rioja.
Luca joined in, giggling away even if he had no idea what he was laughing at. He really was adorable – if slightly on the terrifying side.
“You could try Lock’s, up near Cornmarket. He should be able to help.”
He nodded his thanks, and maintained eye contact for just a fraction longer than the circumstances merited. Please leave, she thought, and let my face fade back to its normal shade. But for some reason he wasn’t moving – his bulk was between her and the door, making her feel trapped and hot and way too bothered.
He maintained that annoyingly intense eye contact and grinned wickedly at her, as though he knew exactly what she was thinking.
Maggie tried to smile back, aiming for friendly-but-firm, but thought she probably looked a bit like the Elephant Man as she did it. Her insides were going a bit squishy, and there was a strange ringing noise in her ears. She felt like she should say something more, try and at least appear like a normal intelligent human being, but her vocal chords had decided to go on strike. He was just so...shiny. And big. And healthy. There was a kind of glow around him – the Ready Brek boy crossed with GI Joe. For some reason, it made speech completely impossible.
“I need to go doo-doo,” said Luca.
At least someone wasn’t stuck for words.
Debbie's next book is sure be an awesome read aswell. Keep your eyes pealed for The Birthday that Changed Everything Out in Jan!!