Holiday Husband by Erin McCarthy

Chapter One

Normally, I’m a party girl. It’s dress-up for adults with champagne and food nibbles tossed in. Tonight? I was not feeling the party vibe. But I still had the outfit. Wearing kickass nude stiletto heels with a fire-engine dress that sported a slit nearly to the promised land, I was in the elevator on the way to a holiday party with my boyfriend. I was towering over the petite woman standing next to me, because at six feet tall, I’m a woman who turns heads. Or rather, heads tilt to look up at me. She was wearing an emerald green dress and craning her neck to smile up at me.

“I’m so excited for this event. It’s a surprise wedding,” she said. “Could you just die? Isn’t that so romantic?”

“A what?” I asked, totally confused. I thought I was meeting Dante for a work party, which I was reluctantly attending, since I had every intention of breaking up with him after the holidays. Now I had to sit through a wedding with him? Awkward. I’m over-the-top on a good day, and my filter is frequently broken. I couldn’t be expected to witness a wedding with Dante and not blurt out all my true feelings. “How can a wedding be a surprise? That’s super confusing to me.”

Did the bride pop out of a cake? Did the groom take over the mic at the holiday party and an arch of flowers drop from the ceiling? Was the officiant dressed as Santa? That would be kind of amazing, actually.

“Oh, it’s a trend now.” She smoothed the front of her dress. “The fiance or girlfriend thinks it’s something else, like a holiday party, and then the doors open and there he is, the groom, at the altar.” She sighed. “I would die of happiness if that happened to me.”

I thought I was more likely to want to hurt my boyfriend if he blindsided me like that, but maybe that had to do with the fact that I had realized Dante and I were not meant to be. He was controlling, inconsiderate, and looked at other women like a tasty snack, the trifecta of red flags. He’d even been hinting that getting married might help his reputation, which was more than slightly tarnished from some poor choices before he met me. I had no intention of being the eraser to his past of DUIs and sleeping with hookers and married women. Hell, married hookers. Plus he didn’t like sushi, so really, he had to go.

Being a decent human being, I didn’t want to dump him before Christmas though. He had talked endlessly about this being his first Christmas ever with a girlfriend. That he was trying to get his life back on track, which I one hundred percent appreciated. He might not always be awesome, but he was charming and funny and thought I was funny, so it had hurt my heart to think about ruining his holiday. I wished him the best, I just thought maybe I wasn’t the right woman for his transitional phase to a different lifestyle.

But I couldn’t leave him sad and lonely, so I had reluctantly decided to wait until after the many parties filled with free booze and good eats. A girl had to be practical. Living in New York was expensive. Besides, a small part of me didn’t want to break up with him and then see five minutes later he was taking a new girl to all those holiday events. Which he would be. I knew that. Which would sting, just a little. Okay, a lot. No one wants to be so easily replaced, plus I really do love parties. They’re kind of my thing. I love music and celebrations and glitter and plunging necklines on sequin dresses and endless glasses of champagne.

“Hmm,” I said, in a noncommittal response to the woman beside me. Under literally any other circumstances I would be all about this surprise wedding situation.

“No one is even supposed to know,” she said. “Not even the guests. Isn’t that so fun?”

“How do you know then?” I asked, curious in spite of myself. It was romantic. I could admit that. Especially if you were already engaged. I’m not someone who had spent my whole life mentally planning my wedding. It wouldn’t bother me if all the details had been taken care of and I just showed up to do the deed. Probably because I had no desire to get married. Ever. Or at least not until I was about seventy and needed a partner for swing dances in the senior center.

“I’m the event planner. I’m Hannah,” she said, holding her hand out. “Pleasure to meet you.”

I shook her hand. “I’m Dakota.”

Her jaw dropped. She released my hand like it was a rotten fish. “Dakota Tanner?”

Puzzled, I nodded. “Yes, how did you–

“I didn’t– I couldn’t imagine– I just thought you were supposed to be in white. That’s what Dante said. He would tell you to wear white.”