Fran Cuthbert Ruins Christmas | Lisa Henry & J.A. Rock
Release Date: November 15th, 2022
Welcome (back) to Christmas Valley. Where it’s Christmas every. F@$#ing. Day.
It’s your typical Hallmark movie plot: my big city boyfriend dumped me, so my adorable five-year-old daughters and I moved back to my hometown just in time for Christmas. I guess the magic of the holiday is going to show me what I really wanted all along, or something.
But on Hallmark, people aren’t usually mainlining their mother’s Xanax. Or stealing the last available Peachblossom Pony Pal from their hot doctor because they have to give their kids the best Christmas ever. And when they run into their high school sweetheart, they don’t usually face the gulf of lies that exists between Cass Sullivan and me.
Oh yeah, and their hometown isn’t located directly up Christmas’s butthole.
I left Christmas Valley because I couldn’t listen to one more carol or look at one more tinsel-wrapped streetlamp. But moving to Boston meant leaving Cass, and that has always been my one regret. I mean, I also regret the box of Franzia in my closet, being publicly dumped, agreeing to take tap dancing lessons with my mom, and the fact that I can’t seem to open my mouth without a little white lie popping out. But mostly Cass.
When I need someone to play Santa for my girls’ favorite Christmas tradition, Cass steps in. Suddenly, I’m falling for him like we’re seventeen again. Can we put aside two decades’ worth of baggage and give each other a second chance? Can he help me build a life in Christmas Valley? And has he really been banging our former geometry teacher?
Only Christmastime will tell. If the holidays don’t kill me first.
Fran Cuthbert Ruins Christmas is a sweet, low-heat holiday novella featuring a second-chance romance, a hot mess MC who could use a steadying hand, adorable kids and dogs, and a guaranteed HEA.
Dr. Stephen Florris had told me gently but gravely at my last visit that it was no wonder my anxiety was through the roof, with all the sugar I was consuming. I’d had the highly inappropriate urge to tell him the reason I was mainlining sugar was that my boyfriend had broken up with me via the Kiss Cam at a Sox game (I’d leaned in, and he’d turned away to ask the woman on his other side where she’d bought her pretzel), and so I’d moved from Boston back to Christmas Valley, OH—a town of 3,915 people, five different holiday shops all purporting to be the Midwest branch of Santa’s workshop, and three annual tree lighting ceremonies; two near actual Christmas, and one for Christmas in July.
Christmas Valley: for the undiscerning gentleman in the throes of a mid-ish life crisis who enjoys driving past Jim Jordan 2024 signs and gagging on Christmas’s dick year-round.
I’d gracefully accepted a nursing job at the community hospital and the attendant pay cut. For the past two months, I’d been driving fifteen minutes to the next town for groceries to avoid seeing anyone I knew. I’d enrolled my girls at Christmas Valley Elementary, the playground of which still harbored the segment of concrete tunnel where I used to hide from bullies with my imaginary friend, Liar Bob. Liar Bob had a tragic backstory where he’d been a compulsive liar until a fairy made it impossible for him to tell anything but the truth. I’d ask him things like, “Will I ever be hot?” and “Will I ever get away from this place?” and “Why would my parents name me Frances?” He’d said, “Yes, Frances, yes you will. And yes, you will. And because they are monsters, Frances.”And I’d believed him.
Now I was starting to think the whole story about the fairy making him tell the truth had been a lie. Because here I was, eighteen years after graduating from Christmas Valley High: Home of the Fighting Reindeer, feeling far from attractive and certain I’d be stuck here until the day I died.
Instead of telling Dr. Stephen Florris—who, mercifully, was not someone I’d gone to school with—my whole sob story, I’d tried to let him know that I was going through a stressful time but that obviously I understood the importance of getting enough sleep and enough B vitamins. He’d asked me, in an unconvincingly offhanded way, what my daughters ate, and I’d looked him right in the eye and told him they ate a healthy, balanced diet—except for the occasional fried potato pizza from Cocca’s—and that the White Cheddar Goldfish lived in Daddy’s secret closet. I didn’t mention the White Cheddar Goldfish’s friends who shared the closet: Box of Franzia, Some of Mom’s Xanax, and Just a Couple of Weed Gummies.
Dr. Stephen Florris had looked at me with mingled pity and suspicion and told me to follow up in four weeks.
My phone jarred me from my reverie and my search for a bag of turnip greens that was not past its sell-by date. My heart thumped when I saw Ben’s name on the screen. I couldn’t have ignored the call if I’d wanted to.
I swiped to answer and said, “Hey,” as casually as I could manage.
“Fran, it’s Ben,” he said, as though I required clarification.
“I know,” I said.
“Do you have a minute?”
“Sure.” I rummaged through the greens. The loudspeaker suddenly blared festive music and the sound of jingle bells, and a cheerful voice said, “Attention holiday shoppers, did you know that now you can get twice the ho-ho-holiday deals with a Save-Rite advantage card? Just fill out our form online, or ask one of our elves to…”
Ben and I both waited until the announcement ended. Then he spoke.
“I’ve been thinking. About Cookies with Santa.”
My heart sank. “Ben…” I said warningly. Maybe a little desperately.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
I closed my eyes briefly. Tightened my grip on the phone. “Why not?”
“For reasons I would think are obvious,”
“You said you would still see the girls.”
“Fran, you moved them eight hundred miles away. I care about them a lot, but if you’d really wanted me to keep seeing them, you wouldn’t have taken them so far.”
“This is where I’m from. I didn’t pick it at random. I needed somewhere to go after you—” I cut myself off. I was not going to get into an argument with my ex in the produce aisle of the Save-Rite. The parking lot, maybe. “Please, Ben,” I said, even though I’d promised myself I would never beg Ben for anything ever again. “Just this year. By next year I’ll have found a replacement, but Christmas is three weeks away, and I—I’m just dealing with a lot.”
“There have to be companies that do this shit. Rent-A-Santa or whatever.”
“They’re used to you. Your Santa. They’ll know if it’s someone else. And come on, the surprise of getting to see you on Christmas Day…”
“I know.” For a moment, Ben sounded genuinely remorseful. “But the truth is, I’m trying to move on. I’ve met somebody.”
Time seemed to freeze. “Met somebody?”
“Yeah. He’s really, really great, actually. You’d like him. Things are going well for me, and it would be really hard to explain to him that hey, so, I have to fly to Ohio because I pretended to be Santa for my ex-boyfriend’s daughters for three years and ate cookies with them every Christmas Eve, and my ex wants me to continue to do this even though he called me ‘the Armie Hammer of mid-level insurance executives’ and said he hoped I died alone—”
“I was in a dark place.”
“—and then he also wants me to spend Christmas morning with him, as myself, because his daughters miss me. So you don’t mind, hon, do you, if I remain inextricably bound to my ex’s life?”
“That’s not what I’m asking.”
“The girls do miss you. You treated them like they were your daughters. You created a set of, of expectations, and now you’re just—”
“They’re not my daughters, Fran.”
That thumped me in the gut.
“I want to spend Christmas with my boyfriend. I want you to be able to move on, like I have. And I don’t think you can do that if I’m still in your life.”
I couldn’t explain why I did what I did next. I just hurt so much, so suddenly, and I was so angry and confused and unsure whether he was exactly right or being an asshole. So I opened my mouth and pulled a Liar Bob, pre-fairy transformation: “I’m actually moving on just fine. I’m seeing somebody too.”
“What?” He sounded way too surprised.
“His name is Dr. Stephen Florris.” Should not have given him a real name. Fuuuuck. “He’s my doctor.”
“Isn’t that a little unethical? Or a lot?”
“Was my doctor. Now we’re dating, so I have a different doctor. Dr. Richmond.” Stop talking, Jan Brady.
“Okay, well, I’m glad to hear that.”
“So even if you did come to visit, it wouldn’t affect my moving-on trajectory, because I’m happy in my relationship. And Stephen doesn’t think it’s weird that somebody who was an important part of my daughters’ lives for years would still come to visit them.”
Ben sighed deeply. Idiot that I was, I’d missed that sigh. “I’m happy for you,” he said. “Really I am. But I can’t do this. It’s too…painful, and awkward. And I just can’t.”
“All right.” A numbness was beginning to set in.
“And I think it’s best if, going forward, we don’t have any contact.”
I nodded, my hand frozen on a bag of turnip greens. People were starting to stare. I realized Ben couldn’t see me nod, and so I would have to say something. But it felt good not to move or speak or think.
“Attention holiday shoppers. Now you can jingle all the way to our bakery for some tree-light-ful holiday deals on cookies, cakes, and more!”
Once more, Ben and I waited in silence for the ad to finish. At least, I thought we were both waiting in silence. But when the cheerful voice stopped speaking, Ben had already hung up.
About the Authors
Lisa likes to tell stories, mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters.
Lisa lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn’t know why, because she hates the heat, but she suspects she’s too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape.
She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied History and English, neither of them very thoroughly.
She shares her house with too many cats, a dog, a green tree frog that swims in the toilet, and as many possums as can break in every night. This is not how she imagined life as a grown-up.
Lisa has been published since 2012, and was a LAMBDA finalist for her quirky, awkward coming-of-age romance Adulting 101, and a Rainbow Awards finalist for 2019’s Anhaga.
She also has a Facebook group where you’ll be kept in the loop with updates on releases, have a chance to win prizes, and probably see lots of lots of pictures of her dog and cats.
J.A. Rock is the author of over twenty LGBTQ romance, suspense, and horror novels, as well as an occasional contributor to HuffPo Queer Voices.
J.A.’s books have received Lambda Literary, INDIEFAB, and EPIC Award nominations, and The Subs Club received the 2016 National Leather Association-International Novel Award.
24/7 was named one of the best books of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews. J.A. lives in Chicago with an extremely judgmental dog, Professor Anne Studebaker.
The Book Nook with Sarah Honey
To celebrate the release of A Husband for Hartwell, JA & Lisa are giving away a $20 Amazon Gift Card