It's official - for Juliette Connolly Christmas is a bust and she's definitely not in the spirit of Christmas. She's been dumped by her boyfriend and replaced by a younger model. Then a clause in her contract means she and a mysterious colleague have to work over Christmas. But there's much more to Andrew Campbell than meets the eye. Especially when it turns out he's the Scottish Laird of the haunted house they're filming in.
And it seems like there's magic in the air in the remote snow-filled setting. The local village contains a cast of Christmas characters and even though the boiler in the drafty house is broken the temperature is definitely rising.
Maybe Andrew and Juliette are about to be sprinkled with a little Christmas fairy dust?
It wasn’t even three o’clock and it was already starting to get dark. “Thanks everyone!” All the staff was full of the joys of Christmas thanks to the traditional pub lunch that they always held on the 23rd December – their last day before the holidays.
The tiny pub was packed. The aromas of beer, wine and Christmas lunch were still floating around. Juliette looked around for her jacket. Last time she’d seen it, it had been hanging on a chair that was looped with tinsel. She gave a wave to two of the secretaries who left clutching the obligatory office Christmas dip present of wine. It was like an unwritten rule in the office. Secret Santa = wine. All you had to do was pick a colour.
People were already piling out the door. It was one of the few perks of working for the TV company – Christmas lunch and an early finish. Usually she’d be excited as everyone else. But rushing home to an empty flat with a lop-sided Christmas tree didn’t seem so exciting. Maybe she’d take a walk down Oxford Street and admire all the Christmas decorations again. Or she could fight her way into the foodhalls in an attempt to find some extra chipolata sausages to pad out her Christmas Meal-for-One in a silver tray, oven cooked in twenty minutes. The man next to her in the supermarket last night had been a widower and had patted her hand in sympathy when he saw her purchases had matched his own.
The Christmas music around her was beginning to grate, so she pushed her way through the crowd into the ladies room and washed her hands. There was a gorgeous chocolatier just off Oxford Street. She could go there and buy some chocolates for tonight. Maybe she could even buy a box to wrap up and put under the tree? Then it might actually feel a bit more like Christmas.
There. A positive idea. She turned her head upside down and gave her curls a shake, pinching her cheeks in the mirror to give her some more colour. That was better. It might not be the same as having a tan – but since she couldn’t get the holidays to go to Barbados with the rest of the family this would have to do.
She walked back out into the still-packed pub. A group of guys at the bar had started singing Christmas carols – badly. We wish you a merry Christmas…we wish you a merry Christmas… She gave them a polite smile on the way past. There was hardly anyone left she recognised. Good. Time to escape into the just as busy Oxford Street. She picked up her Christmas present to herself. A thick red parka with a fur-trimmed hood. See? She could be festive if she tried.
Her boss Kenny was in the corner on the phone talking frantically. Andrew, one of the cameramen was packing some things into a bag. Where was he going for Christmas?
She hardly knew a thing about the tall Scotsman – apart from the fact he used words she’d never even heard of. Last month he’d had a spectacular argument with a particularly nasty Director who he’d declared was an ‘eejit’. She’d had to go home and look up the word. He was right. The director was a complete idiot and she’d loved the fact his accent had got thicker and thicker as the argument had continued. He kept to himself, but under those hidden depths he seemed to have a wicked sense of humour. Who was he going home to? She couldn’t help but feel the tiniest bit jealous.
She sighed and wound her scarf around her neck. Time to hit the busy streets. “Merry Christmas Andrew,” she said as she made her way to the door. He looked up and gave her a smile. It wasn’t an in-your-face toothpaste kind of smile. It was a deep, reserved what-lies-beneath, sexy-and-you-know it kind of smile. The kind to make your toes tingle. If it had been night time and he’d been a stranger in a bar it would have made her heart rate pick up the pace.
“Stop!” Kenny’s voice sounded over the drunken singing as he elbowed his way through the crowd. His happy-go-lucky smile had vanished being replaced by something between panic stricken and heart attack material.
Andrew looked up, “What is it?”
Kenny’s head flicked from side to side. “Where is everyone? Is it just you two left?”
“Looks like it.” Han Solo’s voice echoed in her head. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
“There’s been a hitch. You’ll need to stay.”
“What do you mean we’ll need to stay?” Andrew stood up, swinging his heavy rucksack over his shoulder. It was clear he had no intention of staying.
“There’s been a problem with the schedule. We need to film another episode in the next week.”
Their voices joined in unison in the noisy, festive-filled pub.
Juliette flung up her hands. “That’s impossible. It takes months of research for every episode. We’ve got nowhere to film and no crew to film it.”
“This is crazy, and impossible. I’m going.” Andrew took a few steps towards the door but Kenny stood in front of his large frame.
“What do you mean we can’t?” Andrew was growling down at Kenny now and glancing at his watch.
Kenny folded his arms across his chest. “I mean you can’t. It’s in your contracts - a clause. If there’s an emergency situation, and we need to reshoot - you have to be available.”
Juliette felt her anger start to build in her chest. “This isn’t a reshoot Kenny. It’s a whole new episode.” She waved her arms around the pub. The rest of their staff were on their way home, dreaming of a merry Christmas. “And there’s no-one here to do it.”
“There’s you two. And that’s all we’ll need.”
She wasn’t buying it. Those chocolates just off Oxford Street were currently calling her name. Christmas was going to be miserable enough without having to work in some old creepy haunted house. “No. I’m not doing it. I’m going home. There’s no crew. No script, and nowhere to film. And what kind of emergency means that our network need a brand new episode out of nowhere?”
“The kind where a kid in one of the other episodes was just hit by a car. His parents have requested the episode not be shown – they don’t know what’s going to happen with their kid right now.”
It was as if the wind had just been knocked out of her sails. “Oh.”
There was a thud behind her as Andrew’s rucksack hit the table behind her.
“Which kid?” Her voice was hoarse and every hair on her arms stood on end. They rarely had kids on the show and she knew the answer before he even said it.
“How is he?” Andrew echoed the words in her head.
“I have no idea. It was one of the other family members who phoned.”
Bailey. Gorgeous, cheeky nine-year-old who claimed an ancient mariner appeared in his room every night. It had all been nonsense but filming had been fun, and it was set to be one of the most entertaining episodes of Haunted Ever After.
Kenny was still talking. He obviously didn’t realise the effect his words had already had. “Your contract says you have to help. I’ll find you a venue where you can film. We’ll have another haunted house on the files somewhere. Andrew can take a camera and sound equipment and film and Juliette you can make up the script as you go. You’ll be fine. You always are.” He was babbling, obviously starting to get a little desperate. “In a way, it’s good that it’s you two left. You’re the only two in the production crew that are single and don’t have family commitments. You’ll manage, I’m sure. I’d hate to have to ask other members of staff to be away from their families at this time of year.”
It was almost as if he were twisting the knife straight into her stomach. Way to go, Kenny. Remind her that she was single with no family.
His face paled as he realised his mistake. But Andrew got in there first. “Actually Kenny, you’re wrong. I do have family commitments. Ones that I can’t break over Christmas. I have to go back to Scotland. My train leaves in the next hour.”
Kenny opened his mouth to speak again but Andrew held up his hand, his eyes flitting over to Juliette. “Of course we’ll do it. And don’t worry about finding a venue. I know of a place that’s supposed to be haunted that we can have access to.” He turned to face Juliette, “I’ll pick up a camera and sound equipment from the office on the way to Euston station.” He gave her a quick look up and down. “Will you have time to grab some gear?” He pulled out his phone, “I’ll book you on the same train as me.”
She hesitated. How could she say no now? She couldn’t. It would make her look heartless and she certainly wasn’t that. Trouble was, she’d changed into jeans and a thin top for the Christmas lunch. It wasn’t what she normally wore in front of the cameras for Haunted Ever After. The audience were used to seeing her in smart suits and shoes.
“I live too far away. I’ll just go and buy some clothes on Oxford Street. It shouldn’t take long.”
Andrew raised his eyebrows. “And you can be at the train station in less than an hour?” His tone was riddled with disbelief.
She picked up her bag. “You’ve obviously spent your life shopping with the wrong women Andrew. Of course I can. Tell me what time and what platform.”
He was smiling now. Just as sexy as before. Perfect teeth, and deep green eyes. Maybe she should have paid attention before now?
“Platform three, Euston. See you then.”
Kenny dug through his pockets and pulled out a company credit card. “Put any of your expenses on this – including your clothes. And thanks guys. We need the film by the 28th.”
Juliette glanced at her watch. Thirty minutes. That’s around the time she’d have to shop then head for the tube station to get to Euston. It was only two stops but it would be busy.
Andrew had already walked out the door. Her stomach started doing flip flops. Christmas with a handsome guy she hardly knew in a haunted house in Scotland.
Perfect end to her year.
Turned out Andrew had been right to raise his eyebrows. It looked like everybody on the planet was currently shopping on Oxford Street on Christmas Eve. There seemed to be a never-ending supply of small children all holding hands and blocking the pavements, followed by middle-aged men sweating profusely, dressed in business suits and picking up any item that was in arms reach. The crush was so bad in some places she couldn’t breathe.
Her favourite shop was a no-go area. She couldn’t even get in the door. Christmas music was blasting out of every shop door way. Assistants all looked as if they could burst into tears any second now. And when her last desperate attempt to find a suit in her size failed in the fourth shop she tried, she darted into the nearby expensive department store and ended up with perfume squirted in her eye by an over-zealous sales girl.
Finally, she ran up the stairs to women’s wear and grabbed the first suit in her size, along with a few shirts, t-shirts, jeans and boots.
A lift pinged next to her and she sagged inside crushing her bags alongside her. “Knickers!”
Everyone in the lift turned to look at her as her face flooded with colour. Underwear. She’d forgotten to buy underwear. She pressed the button for the floor underneath with her only available finger – her pinkie – and made a mad dash across the second floor, grabbing whatever she could.
She couldn’t help but laugh at the amount of men doing exactly the same as she was. How many women would wake up on Christmas morning with wrong-sized and mismatched underwear?
Finally, she was finished. She glanced at her watch. Eeek!!! But there was no way she was leaving without one last thing. If she had to spend Christmas working, with a virtual stranger, she was making sure one thing was perfect.
The waft of chocolate came out to meet her as she ran to the black and gold store with old-fashioned small square windows. A tiny woman with a gold apron and red tinsel around her shoulders smiled sweetly as she rushed inside.
It was the most welcoming smile she’d seen all day. “Someone seems in a rush. What can I get you dear?”
Music to her ears. Her fingers grabbed the edge of Kenny’s credit card – it was already red hot.
She slammed it on the glass-topped counter. “Everything.”
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