This year I put together another Holly Jolly Blog Hop with other authors. I’d like to do more collaborations in the future, because they’re always so fun!
Anyway, this year’s theme is “The Wrong Gift.” Every author participating in the hop posted a free short story on their blog. This is a great way for you to discover new authors or enjoy some bonus scenes with your favorite characters, so be sure to check out the entire list here.
And now, without further ado…
“South of Christmas”
A South of Forever Holiday Short
Koty tugged open the oven door and peered inside. The pre-cooked Christmas roast he’d bought was faring well—meaning he hadn’t burnt it. If nothing else went right, he’d consider the holiday a win just for the roast.
Jett—his girlfriend and the lead singer of South of Forever, the band he played in—padded into the kitchen. She lifted a meaningful eyebrow at him. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
He nodded. “I know how rough the holidays are for you. I wanted to make it special.”
“Yes, but . . . inviting the entire band over?” She grimaced, exaggerating the face. “This can’t go well.”
Koty said nothing. It was going to be awesome—especially the gifts. Thanks to Poppy, the band’s manager, he’d scored the perfect present for Jett. He still couldn’t believe it.
The doorbell rang, and Koty marched toward the front of their condo. He pulled open the door, not sure who to expect. The entire band crowded on his front stoop. “You’re . . . all on time,” he said, shocked.
“That’s because I told them to be here an hour earlier than what we’d planned.” Poppy beamed.
Griff, her boyfriend and South of Forever’s bassist, kissed her temple.
“Wait a second.” Max shot Poppy a glare. “So you made me think I was running late when I’m actually perfectly on time?”
“Devious,” he muttered.
“Come on in, guys.” Koty waved them inside.
They crowded into the living room, making the ordinarily spacious condo seem so much smaller. Chloe, Max’s daughter, threw herself into Koty’s arms at full force.
“Uncle Koty!” she exclaimed. “Look what Santa brought!” She held up a kids’ palette of watercolor paints. “So I can paint like Mommy—I mean, Na Na.”
Across the room, Savannah—Max’s girlfriend and the band’s graphic designer—exchanged glances with Max. “Should I correct her?” Koty heard her whisper.
“Nah,” Max said. “You are her mother.”
“You’re going to make my mother childless if we don’t eat soon,” Perry, the bassist, complained.
Krista, South of Forever’s music blogger, swatted at him, rolling her eyes. “When was the last time you even talked to your mother?”
“Food’s ready,” Koty said. He gestured to the kitchen. “If you guys all wanna sit down, we can get started.”
They filed past him, somehow managing not to stampede through the condo. As Poppy neared, he drew her aside.
“Did you get it?”
“Of course. What do you think I am?” She pressed a small, wrapped box into Koty’s hands.
Relief washed through him as she sashayed into the kitchen. He bent and tucked the little box under the tree, then joined the band at the table.
Somehow Jett had set the table and laid out the food without breaking into hives. He grinned. Perhaps she could be domesticated, despite the jokes she always cracked.
The knowing glare she shot him from across the table said otherwise. He bit back a smile. His girl was amazing just the way she was—whether she was into homemaking or not.
Dinner flew by. None of the band members argued, and several times Koty noticed a contented smile on Jett’s face. He’d been determined to make this holiday season a warm one for her. Too many in the past had broken her heart—and he’d had enough bad Christmases of his own to last a lifetime.
When everyone was stuffed, he ushered them into the living room. He could take care of the kitchen later.
“Thank you all for coming,” he told them, making his way to the tree. “We really wanted this Christmas to be special. You guys are like our family, and—”
“Gross,” Perry ribbed. “I’m going to need a shower now.”
“Yeah, cut it out,” Griff said. “This is not very rock ’n’ roll.”
“Speak for yourselves! I love you too, bro,” Max said, clutching at his chest and making crazy eyes at Koty. The other guys cracked up.
With a shrug, Koty reached under the tree. Clutching the box, he held it up for Jett. “I don’t want to make a big deal out of this, but . . . I think you’re going to love it.”
The entire room fell into hushed awe. Both Savannah’s and Poppy’s eyes were glued to the box, and Jett eyed it as if it might explode.
He pressed it into her hands. “Just open it.”
Her lips were a tight line as she peeled off the paper. The velvety black box she held in her hand held so much more weight emotionally than physically. He steeled himself for her reaction. Her brown eyes darted up to his, eyebrows lifting in question.
The wrapping paper fell to the floor as she flipped the box open.
A grin tugged at his lips. He couldn’t wait for her to see it. He’d spent days perfecting it, standing over Poppy’s shoulder while she sketched.
“Gah!” Jett dropped the box as if it were a spider. It tumbled to the floor.
“What? What’s wrong?”
She stared at him accusingly. “Why? Why would you do this? I thought we agreed!”
Koty blinked. He tried to remember if they’d made a no gifts pact. His brow wrinkled. “What do you mean?”
Jett snatched the box up from the floor. She thrust it in front of his face. “This!”
A sparkling diamond ring nearly blinded him.
“Gah!” He jumped back, pushing the box away. “I didn’t do this!” Horrified, he scanned the room until his eyes met Poppy’s. “What is this, some kind of sick joke?”
The band manager cocked her head at him. When he held the ring up, understanding dawned on her face. “Sorry,” she said with a laugh. “I must’ve mixed up the boxes.”
Griff stared at her, his fair complexion even paler. “I didn’t do that either,” he sputtered.
“Of course not.” Poppy plucked the box from Koty’s hand. “I designed it for myself. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, you know.” She slid the ring onto an index finger. “Ooh, and it fits perfectly!”
“Yeah, that’s great,” Koty said, “but where’s my gift for Jett?”
“Oh!” She reached into her bag, digging around. She tossed Koty another box—this one unwrapped.
Pressing his lips together, he handed it to Jett. “I promise,” he said while throwing a glare toward Poppy, “that there’s no engagement ring in this one.”
“It’s not an engagement ring,” Poppy muttered.
“Are you trying to tell me something?” Griff asked.
Jett considered the box for a moment, the expression on her face unreadable. Koty thought she might be amused, but also slightly embarrassed. He made a mental note to never put Poppy in charge of gifts again.
“Go ahead,” he told Jett, voice gentle. Sometimes his tough girl could be like a startled deer, crashing through the woods at the first sign of being caged. He knew she loved him, and he had no complaints about what they had.
Jett opened the box. As she took in his real gift, her eyes softened. She turned toward him. “This,” she said, “is perfect.”
“Well? Hold it up!” Savannah called to her.
Jett lifted the white gold necklace from the box, dangling the diamond-encrusted guitar pick so that it caught in the light. On the back, Koty’d had the jeweler engrave their initials: JC + KJ. It’d been expensive, but even without South of Forever, Koty was set for life. Every penny he’d put toward that necklace had been worth it.
Turning, Jett threw her arms around his neck. “Thank you,” she whispered into his ear.
“Merry Christmas,” he whispered back, his arms twining around her.
Thanks for reading “South of Christmas”! You can now read the entire South of Forever series for free in KU. Click here to get started.
Don’t forget to check out the other free stories in the hop! Click here to read them all.