THAT MISTLETOE MOMENT (a multi-author anthology from Kensington featuring my story, “A Boyfriend by Christmas”, as well as two other great new stories by two fabulous authors Kate Angell and Allyson Charles) is available today in eBook and print. Read an excerpt from my story below. Enjoy! Cat
AMAZON US ~
“In Johnson’s charismatic ‘A Boyfriend by Christmas’, a chance meeting on Thanksgiving and a text sent to the wrong contact lead to alluring romantic possibilities…” ~ Publishers Weekly
Nikki sat perched on one of the bar stools at the kitchen island, focusing on her cell phone. “So, I downloaded this app . . .”
“Mmm-hmm.” Noelle sat too, reached for a second cookie, and took a good-sized bite out of it.
“I signed you up.”
Her sister was always doing stuff like that. Signing her up for mailing lists and websites without her permission. Noelle pulled her mouth to one side. “Great. Now I’ll get a bunch of e-mails because they have my address. What’s it for, some store?”
“Uh, no, not a store.” Nikki put her own cell down just as Noelle’s phone vibrated with a text alert. Nikki eyed the phone on the countertop, where Noelle had tossed it. “You gonna check that?”
Suspicious, Noelle put down her mug and picked up the phone. There was a new text from a number she didn’t recognize, but it was from her local area code. She frowned at the screen as she hit the button to read it.
Hello, beautiful! Reply to this number to start chatting with your new boyfriend.
“What is this? What did you do?” Noelle glared at her sister.
Nikki’s face lit up with a grin. “I got you a boyfriend.”
“A what?” Noelle’s voice rose high.
“Not a real one. Relax. It’s the Build-A-Boyfriend app.” Nikki held up her phone as if that would explain it all. “Remember, I told you about it at Thanksgiving?”
Noelle grabbed her sister’s phone and glanced at the screen. “But I don’t understand. Who is this text from?”
“Actually, I’m not really sure. That’s kind of proprietary information. I read an article about the app in the Wall Street Journal before I signed you up, and the owners of the company were pretty secretive about how they actually generate the texts.”
“Oh, well, that’s comforting.” Noelle rolled her eyes.
Ignoring the sarcasm, Nikki continued, “The exact process and technology is kept under wraps, but there’s speculation it might be a combination of computer technology and real-life human interaction.”
“So basically the nicest compliment I’ve gotten in recent memory is from either a computer or someone being paid to text me.” Noelle twisted her mouth unhappily.
“Yes. But that’s the beauty of it. You get to pretend you have the perfect boyfriend for the family at Christmas without dealing with any of the problems of a real man.”
“None of the problems but also none of the fun,” Noelle reminded her overly jubilant sister.
Nikki dismissed that complaint with one flick of a wrist. “Oh, seriously. When was the last time you had fun with George? I mean real fun, where he didn’t criticize you or act like a stick in the mud?”
It was a knee-jerk reaction to defend George to Nikki, but just the mention of his name raised a horrible realization that had Noelle gasping. “George’s parents will be at the Christmas party.”
Nikki nodded. “I’m sure they will. And I think you’d better prepare yourself that George could very well come, too.”
Noelle widened her eyes. “You think he would?”
How could she face him? And what if he came with a date? He wouldn’t have the nerve—would he? She had the bad feeling he might.
“Yes, I do. And I think you need to be ready. Which is why we’re setting you up with a new boyfriend.”
“I don’t think a couple of possibly computer-generated texts are going to convince anyone I have a boyfriend.”
“The app does more than just text. You can get e-mails. Even a real handwritten letter. And you can set up for flower and gift deliveries, too, but that’s an extra charge.”
All of that sounded expensive. “How much is this thing going to cost me?”
“Nothing. There’s a free trial. For the basic membership during the trial period you get a limited number of texts, and we can design a complete boyfriend. We name him. Give him an occupation. We can even download photos from their database.” When Noelle continued to look skeptical, Nikki continued. “I’m telling you, this will work. We post a couple of status updates and pictures online, and you’ll have what looks like a completely convincing relationship.”
“No. I’m not posting pictures of a made-up boyfriend. That’s too much. Then what happens when I meet a real guy and there are these pictures of my fake boyfriend all over the web?”
“Fine. No guy pics right away, but we’re going to revisit that idea before the party. Okay?”
Noelle sighed, too beaten down to fight her sister. “Okay.”
“Even without pictures of a guy, we can fabricate a complete relationship online starting right away.”
“How in the world are you going to do that?”
“Easy. A close-up shot of two glasses of champagne with a status update that reads something like, Enjoying some bubbly at Sunday brunch with my new man. A pic of a Christmas tree lot with the post, Good thing my boyfriend is strong since I chose the biggest tree here. A few posts like that and George and the relatives will think you have the most active social life of anyone we know.”
Shocked, and admittedly a bit impressed, Noelle stared at her sister. “You do realize that if you put this much creativity and effort into your dissertation and building a career, you’d be making enough money to move out of Mom and Dad’s place, right?”
“Ugh. Work and school are no fun. This is fun. I can’t wait to create all sorts of dates for you and—wait—what are we calling him?” Nikki picked up her phone again. “There’s a place for all that info in the dashboard of the app. So, what do you want to call your new fake boyfriend?”
“First of all, can we stop referring to him as my fake boyfriend?” Noelle sighed with self-pity. “Other than that, I don’t know what to call him.”
“Just choose a guy’s name. Make it something strong and sexy.” Nikki waited, phone in hand as Noelle glanced around the room, looking for inspiration and not finding much that would work for a good name.
“Strong and sexy . . . Hmm. Ooh, wait. I got it.” She smiled in triumph as an idea struck. “Type in that his name is Nathan.”
“Nathan. Okay. Sounds good to me.” Nikki typed in a few things. “Where’d you get that name from?”
“He was this guy I met at the store when I ran out to buy more cranberries on Thanksgiving.” Back when she’d been happy and hopeful for a future with George. Apparently, also back when she’d been delusional that she and he were in the same place in their relationship. “Anyway, there were only two bags left and he was going to buy them both but he gave one to me.”
“That was nice of him.”
“Yeah. It was. I gave him my cranberry recipe as a thank-you.”
Nikki sucked in a breath. “You gave it to him and you won’t even give it to me?”
“Fine. I’ll text it to you.” Noelle scrolled to the outgoing text with the recipe and sent a copy to her sister. Nikki’s phone chimed a few seconds later and Noelle said, “There. You have it now. Happy?”
“Yes. Thank you.” Nikki continued to tap away on her phone before raising her eyes to Noelle. “Okay. I’ve put everything in your app dashboard. You’re all set up, or rather he’s all set up. Remember to save that Build-A-Boyfriend number into your contacts under Nathan. It will be good proof.”
“Proof for whom? Who’s going to see the texts on my phone?”
“Everyone you show them to at the Christmas party when you’re telling them about how great your new boyfriend, Nathan, is and reading them what sweet things he is going to text to you.”
Picking up her phone again, Noelle sighed deeply. She spotted the number with the local area code and hit the button to create a new contact. She narrated her actions aloud for her bossy sister. “Create new contact. N-A-T-H-A-N. Save. Anything else, boss?”
“Well, you’re going to have to text him back so he can respond. That’s how it works.”
“Stop saying ‘him’ likes it’s a real guy.” Noelle tried not to think that at best her texts would be from some bored Build-A-Boyfriend employee, and at worst from a computer.
“If you don’t start acting like he’s real, how do you expect anyone else to believe it?” Nikki cocked a brow and ignored Noelle’s pout. “Now, go put on something cute and festive. We need to go out and start faking some dates.”
Noelle wasn’t sure she had the ability to be cute or festive right now. “Why?”
“For the pictures. We’ll take some of you getting your Christmas tree. Oh, and bring an extra sweater and a scarf or hat with you so we can fake a few different dates to post all throughout the week.” Nikki stopped her planning long enough to shoot Noelle a glare. “What are you waiting for? Go.”
“Fine.” Rolling her eyes, Noelle slid off the stool and turned toward the hall.
“And put on some makeup. You look like death.”
“Thanks.” She shot her sister a glare over her shoulder.
Nikki responded with a broad grin. “You’re welcome. Ooh and mistletoe. We definitely have to buy some mistletoe. We can take a picture of it hanging up. It’ll be perfect.”
Nikki continued talking as Noelle walked away. Her only concession was to raise her voice louder.
In her bedroom, Noelle shook her head at this whole thing. Faking a relationship was a lot of work. It might be easier just to find a real man.