In this fierce rivalry, only one of us can end up on top, and Zach Holiday thinks he’s got me right where he wants me. He may be up to his old tricks but I’ve got a few of my own to teach him.
Scary & Sweet is the first novella in my steamy romantic comedy Holiday Valley series, available now on Amazon. Read the first chapter below.
It’s a quarter to five and that means I’ve got exactly fifteen minutes to hustle up the steps of the Holiday Valley town hall and deliver my petition signatures with the intent to run for mayor.
I know it’s kind of crazy – especially considering the fact that my last name is not Holiday – but a girl with big political aspirations has to start somewhere, and I can’t think of a better place to begin my career. I’ve lived in Holiday Valley all my life, where everyone treats each other like family, and sometimes it feels like this silly, festive place is actually a part of me. What better way to honor my birthplace than to take a turn shaping it for future generations?
Yeah, I might be a little sappy, and a lot optimistic, but I’ve got big ideas and this little town is the perfect place for me to practice for the future.
That is, if rush hour traffic doesn’t bring my hopes and aspirations to a grinding halt.
The town’s having a bit of a moment right now. Some big shot reporter from Travel + Leisure came to our annual Halloween bash at the Holiday mansion last year, fell in love with the town just like everyone does, and wrote a glowing piece for the magazine. Ever since then, we’ve been inundated with tourists who can’t get enough of our kitsch.
When they found out we also do it up big for every other major holiday, well, they kind of lost their shit. Everyone from families looking to recapture that nostalgic holiday spirit to Instagrammers seeking the perfect seasonal backdrops started flooding into the town at every major holiday.
And the townies? We freaking love it – but of course, a bunch of weirdos who choose to populate a small town whose whole raison d’être is holiday cheer would say ‘the more, the merrier’.
The only thing that puts a damper on our newfound popularity is that Holiday Valley is a small town and we don’t quite have the infrastructure to handle this influx of visitors. The town’s about five miles square, with a quaint Main Street full of shops and restaurants, and houses branching off in all directions.
That’s one street that gets awfully congested around our newfound ‘rush hour,’ and which makes being a pedestrian way harder than it used to be.
As I basically sprint my way down the sidewalk, petition tucked into the crook of my arm, I actually wonder if I’ll make it to town hall before Barb, the town clerk, locks the doors. Would she accept my bid for mayor if I shoved my signature sheets under the door along with a pleading note to forgive the wrinkles?
When I left my house ten minutes ago, I knew it would be a close call, but when I walked into the kitchen to find my petition still sitting on the counter – right where I’d left it this morning – all I could do was run and silently pray. My little brother was supposed to drop it off on his way to school this morning. He promised me he’d remember. But who knows what goes on in the girl-addled mind of a teenaged boy?
I’m breaking a sweat even in the cool breeze that signals the beginning of my favorite time of year – sweater weather. And my long, dark hair, pulled back in a bun, is a wild, wind-blown mess.
Good thing Barb’s not the judging type, and the town hall should be pretty much empty by the time I arrive. The last thing I want is to run into Maggie Holiday, the town’s current mayor, with my cheeks red, wheezing from the effort of running.
I’m – gasp – here to run for mayor, I can just imagine myself saying as I hold out my petition for her to see all the signatures I’ve gathered, damp with palm sweat. Please take me seriously!
I know – and every single person who signed my petition knows – that if the exact circumstances that are currently conspiring did not exist, I would have a snowball’s chance of winning. That’s why I’m hauling ass to the town hall – if I miss this deadline, I’ll probably never get another chance to run for mayor of Holiday Valley.
The town’s been around for about 150 years, settled by Alexander Holiday himself, and it’s more or less stayed in the family ever since.
Every single member of the Holiday family has served at least one term as mayor, and Maggie Holiday has been in the position for the last sixteen years. She’s absolutely adored by the whole town, and the only reason I stand a chance is because I’m not running against her – she’s retiring once her term ends.
That leaves a narrow opening for me, right after Maggie retires and before her heir apparent son, Zach, is ready to take his turn in the mayor’s office. He’s still in college, one year younger than me, thank God.
I’m going to slide into the mayor’s office like my little brother slides into the cheerleaders’ DMs.
Right now, though, I’m looking for an opportunity to slide through the roundabout that is the last obstacle standing between me and town hall. Mayor Holiday put it in last spring after we’d just gotten through the gauntlet of winter holidays, promising it would alleviate the traffic bottlenecks that tend to happen on Main Street every day at nine and five. That, it did, but it also made pedestrian traffic feel like playing a game of Frogger.
Should I receive your vote, I promise to find a solution for both motorists and walkers alike, I practice in my head while I look for an opening.
The stream of cars is nothing like in big cities, but it’s pretty endless for a girl with a stack of papers in her arms and a time-sensitive deadline on her dreams fast approaching.
I step off the curb and no sooner does my heel touch the asphalt than a car horn blares in my ears, making my heart pound and panic rip through me.
A car whips around the roundabout, aiming for the exit where I’m standing. Am I about to be a little green splat on the road, game over?
Someone grabs my arm and yanks me back onto the sidewalk, loosening my grip on my petition in the process. Papers go flying, hell, my skirt goes flying momentarily over my hips, and the car speeds past.
Must be a tourist – a townie would never try to flatten me without so much as a friendly Holiday Valley Sorry, bud!
“Trying to get yourself killed, Abbi?”
I freeze as the owner of the hand that yanked me out of harm’s way speaks and I know that voice. I could never forget it. Zach Holiday, heir apparent and, it just so happens, my childhood bully.
I regain my composure and pull my arm out of his grasp, then turn to face him, ready to scowl and shoot a snappy comeback at him. But then my eyes lock with his smoldering hazel ones and any comeback I might have had – snappy or otherwise – fades from my tongue.
Damn it, I haven’t seen him in three years, ever since he went away to that fancy college I could only ever dream of, but the Ivy League has been good to him.
He’s always been good-looking, with a strong jaw and a tall, athletic build. But now he’s got a thin crop of scruff along that delicious jawline, and it’s obvious that he’s been spending even more time on the golf course than he did in high school. His biceps are bulging out of a sleek, sporty t-shirt and his skin is tanned and golden.
I’m pretty sure he notices the slack-jawed way that I’m appraising him, because a satisfied little smirk forms on his perfect lips.
“What are you doing back in town?” I snap at him while I bend down to start collecting the petition papers that have scattered all over the sidewalk. The breeze picks up and a second bolt of panic shoots through me as I picture all my hard-earned signatures scattering to the wind.
“You’re welcome for saving your life,” he says, deftly catching one of my blown papers before it has a chance to get away.
“The thank you card’s in the mail,” I grumble as he steps into the roundabout with utter, cocky confidence, holding his hand up to stop the traffic while he retrieves another piece of my petition.
When he comes back and holds it out for me, I snatch it away from him, trying not to look directly into those gorgeous hazel eyes. I catch a waft of cologne mixed with the smell of fresh-cut grass as his body comes nearer to mine, and my legs feel a little weak.
He really shouldn’t have the power to affect me this way – not after three years apart, and not after all the hell he put me through in school.
I can still vividly remember the milk snake he and that jackass best friend of his, Luke, slipped into my trick-or-treat bag one year when we were kids. I looked down to find it wriggling through the Milk Duds and screamed, and Zach damn near had an aneurysm laughing.
The snake turned out to be Luke’s pet and sure, it did turn out to be kind of cute when I was finally done having the vapors, but I never went trick-or treating again.
If everyone in Holiday Valley is like family, that would make Zach my cruel younger brother. And yet here I am, getting weak in the knees every time he looks at me. I must be a secret masochist.
Zach grabs the last loose piece of my petition, but instead of handing it back to me, he holds his arm out and says, “Here, allow me to escort a lady across my mother’s death trap.”
I don’t want to accept charity from Zach Holiday, of all people, but it’s now just five minutes til five and I have to admit defeat. Either he parts the sea of traffic for me, or I don’t get my petition filed on time to run for mayor.
“Thank you,” I say, surprised when he grabs my free hand and wraps it around his forearm like a true gentleman. It makes my cheeks burn and I hope he’s too distracted bending the traffic to his will to notice.
When we arrive safely on the other side of the roundabout – just about thirty more steps between me and Barb’s desk – I hold out my had for the last page of my petition, but Zach holds it out of my reach.
No – now is not the time for a schoolyard game of keep-away!
“Intent to run for mayor,” he reads, scanning his eyes over the signature.
“Yeah,” I say, standing a little taller. “Your mom announced that she’s retiring right after I finished my political science degree. It seemed like a sign.”
Zach gives me a sympathetic look and I can’t figure out what that’s all about. Trying to psyche me out? Steal my confidence? He might have been the pigtail-pulling prankster type in school, but he was never that kind of cruel.
“Can I have that back?” I ask, getting antsy as I glance up the town hall steps. Time’s running out. “Today’s the last day to file.”
“Just a second,” Zach says, pulling a pen out of his pocket. I gawk as he adds his name to the bottom of the page, then hands it back to me with another one of those odd, slightly pitying looks. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” I say, furrowing my brow and studying him as I take the page. I don’t have time to figure out what’s going on in that handsome head of his.
I turn and head for the steps, and my confusion only intensifies as he follows me. What game is he playing now?