The Best Gift of All – Excerpt

Robin Taylor took a sip of her amaretto sour. Another Christmas was coming, racing toward her faster than a freight train. She glanced around Rowdy’s. Multi-colored lights were strung along the ceiling. Beneath the lights, singles lined the bar and tables, seeking that one perfect person. Her heart sunk at the thought of another Christmas alone. She hadn’t been on a date in months, making finding her perfect person nearly impossible.

Why had she agreed to a ladies’ night? The Head Bangers started playing their infamous song, Honky Tonk Christmas, and Robin grumbled.

“What is wrong with you tonight? You’re such a downer,” Lissa said.

Jill smacked Lissa’s arm. “Christmas.”

“I don’t get why you’re so depressed at this time every year,” Lissa said, brushing her black hair behind her shoulder.

“I work for my dad and uncle. That’s all I have. Christmas reminds me of that. It makes me feel lonely. Christmas is a time for lovers.” Christmas was a time for giving and she’d like nothing more than to give her heart to someone.

“Excuse me, but you have us. How could you possibly want more?” Lissa said.

“We’re not guys,” Jill said.

“I don’t just want a guy. I want that once in a lifetime love, like Jessica and Eric.”

Jill sighed. “And Stacia and Will.”

“I’m going to vomit. I don’t have a boyfriend and I’m fine with that.”

“You don’t want one,” Robin said to Lissa.

“I want one, but I don’t let it get to me. I’m willing to wait for however long it takes,” Jill said.

“That’s because you can have any guy you want.” Robin looked at Jill, the all-American beauty with light brown hair and brown eyes, and realized Jill had no idea how pretty she was. Jill could walk out of Rowdy’s with any guy she chose. Robin sighed and ran her finger along the rim of her glass as she wondered if she was seeing the rest of her life — nights at Rowdy’s and days at Brothers Diner. “I’m discontent. Even if I had a boyfriend, I think I’d still be wondering if this is all there is.” Yes, a boyfriend would be nice, especially during the holiday season, but she longed to be free of the diner. She loved her father and uncle and it was that love that kept her running a diner that she didn’t want.

“You need a one-night stand,” Lissa said.

“What?”

“Think about it,” Lissa said, slapping her hand on the table. “You’re the good girl. For once, be the girl who goes after the guy for one night of hot sex.”

“I don’t know.” Robin shook her head.

“That is the worst idea I’ve ever heard. That is not our Robin,” Jill said.

Anger coursed through Robin. She lived inside a box and never ventured outside of it. It was what everyone had come to expect of her. Basically, she was a bore. Lissa was right. She needed some excitement and one night with a stranger would certainly be thrilling. Her pulse kicked up at the mere thought of it.

“Next guy who walks in is mine.”

Tapping at her temple, Jill said, “Robin, think about this.”

“I have. I’m with Lissa on this one.” She’d never done anything irresponsible before. She was cautious. A thinker. It would be nice to not think for once.

“I didn’t say to pick the first guy who comes through the door. You should be more selective than that.”

Robin scanned the bar. A rugged-looking guy with light brown hair sat by himself at the bar with a beer in front of him. Sadness seemed to envelope him. Maybe she could give him some joy for awhile.

“How about him?” Robin asked, tipping her head toward the bar.

“Nice,” Jill said.

“Hot,” Lissa said. “Go for it.”

“I don’t know how to do this.”

“Sit next to him, introduce yourself, and ask him to buy you a drink.”

“Skip the drink,” Jill said.

“The drink makes her sound confident.”

“It makes her sound desperate.”

“Go for the drink.”

“No.”

Robin guzzled the rest of her amaretto sour and left Jill and Lissa to battle it out. She sauntered across the scarred hardwood floor to the bar, her stomach fluttering.

“Hi,” she said as she sat down. “I’m Robin.”

“Ty.” He shook her hand and their eyes locked. Robin was mesmerized by his eyes, the color of coffee with flecks of gold. “Can I buy you a drink?”

“Sure.” This was easier than she thought. “Amaretto sour. Thank you.” Robin leaned toward him. She’d seen Lissa do that when Lissa tried to pick up a guy. He wasn’t classically handsome. His nose appeared to have a couple of stories behind it. It was slightly crooked as though it had been broken before. A couple of thin white scars that were barely visible under his five o’clock shadow streaked his cheek. “Lincoln Falls is a small town. I haven’t seen you around here.”

“It’s my first time here. I’m visiting my grandfather.”

“Who’s your grandfather? I might know him.”

“Jonathan Flynn. He recently married Scarlett–”

“Pulaski. I know him. They are wonderful together. Proof that true love exists.”

“Maybe.” He smirked and shook his head. Obviously, he disagreed with her. Was it true love or Jonathan and Scarlett weren’t great together?
Everyone knew Jonathan and Scarlett were meant for each other, which meant only one thing. “You don’t believe in true love?”

“It’s all a little sappy, don’t you think?”

“I think it’s wonderful. To find that one person you’re meant to be with. Someone you can count on to always be with you.” Someone who would kiss her even in the pouring rain, but she didn’t say that out loud.

“Like I said sappy.” He took a sip of his beer and seemed to focus on something behind the bar.

Maybe she had picked the wrong guy. “Then what’s your idea of love.”

He turned his gorgeous brown eyes on her and said, “Everyone has faults, right?”

“Yes,” Robin said, wondering where he was going with this.

“Well, you find someone you can be with despite his or her faults. If you can live with that person’s faults, it’s love.”

Wow. Robin didn’t know what to say to that. The bartender placed the amaretto sour in front of her. She sipped it as she attempted to wrap her mind around the fact that she’d picked the one guy who didn’t have an ounce of romance in him.

“You’re awfully quiet, which means you disagree.”

“Of course, I disagree. Just because you can live with someone’s faults, it doesn’t mean it’s love. There’s more to it than that. You’ve taken all the romance out of it.”

“Explain love to me.”

“I don’t think I can. I’ve never been in love.” Robin played with the stirrer in her drink. “I believe it’s a feeling. Somehow you know.”

“Like love at first sight.”

“Love at first sight exists in rare cases.” Robin stirred her drink as she figured out the best way to explain love to him. “That’s not what I’m talking about. After you’ve been out a couple of times, you just know.”

“Listen, I know why you came over here,” he said and pointed his beer at her. “But we’re not going to work.”

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