The eagerly anticipated new Christmas read from the Sunday Times bestselling author Sarah Morgan is nearly here! If you haven’t seen our gorgeous cover reveal animation yet, take a look below:
One More for Christmas will hit shelves October 29th and it’s making us feel VERY festive indeed. If you liked A Wedding in December, we’re sure you will LOVE this. And if you simply can’t wait, scroll down for an exclusive early extract of this gorgeously uplifting new novel!
“That’s it! We’re done. I’ll make those calls and—” She broke off as Amanda, one of the junior account managers, came flying into the room.
“Samantha! Sorry, but it’s urgent.”
“It’s your mother.”
Samantha almost said, I don’t have a mother, but then she remembered that wasn’t strictly true. Biologically speaking, she had a mother. Not a cuddly, rosy-cheeked loving mother, as portrayed by the movies, but still a mother in the most literal sense of the word.
Instinctively she kept her expression blank. She had her mother to thank for that skill—if the ability to hide the way she was feeling could be considered a skill. She had no problem with other people’s emotions—just her own.
She felt Charlotte touch her arm. “Samantha? Are you okay?”
No, she wasn’t okay. Mention of her mother was enough to ensure that.
Of course not personally. When had her mother ever done anything personal? And Samantha hadn’t heard from her in five years. Not since that last frustrating and disastrous “family gathering.” She could still feel her sister’s tears soaking through her shirt and remember the way her whole body had shuddered with sobs as Samantha had held her.
“Why is she like this? Why does she say these things? What did we do wrong?”
Samantha felt suddenly tired. “Who called? And why?”
Her mother would never make contact without a good reason.
“Someone called Cole. He says he’s her assistant. I had no idea your mother was Gayle Mitchell. I mean, I probably should have guessed…Samantha Mitchell, right? But I just didn’t—I mean, wow.” The girl was looking at Samantha with awe and a new respect. “What a woman. She’s a total legend.”
Of all the words Samantha could have used to describe her mother, that wouldn’t have been on her list. But she was aware of how many people—women especially—admired her.
Gayle Mitchell had a way of inspiring and reaching people. The only people she seemed unable to connect with were her daughters.
Samantha felt a pressure in her chest. How could she feel hurt? After all these years, why didn’t she have that under control?
“Choice Not Chance changed my life,” Amanda said. “It’s brilliant, isn’t it?”
Should she admit that she’d never read it? She’d used it as a drinks mat, a dartboard and a doorstop. But never once opened it. That was her choice, wasn’t it?
“Did her assistant say why she was calling?”
“Well, kind of… I don’t know an easy way to say this. It’s going to be a shock…” Amanda sent Charlotte a desperate look. “Your mother is in hospital.”
Samantha stared at her. “What?”
“Hospital. She’s in hospital.”
“That’s not possible. My mother hasn’t had a single sick day in her life.”
“Her assistant said something about an accident. He said you need to get to the hospital because she’s asking for you.”
Her mother was asking for her? Why? Gayle Mitchell was nothing if not practical. If she was injured, she’d be asking for a doctor—not her daughter. Especially as they hadn’t seen each other since that last disastrous occasion.
She glanced round as Sandra, the intern, ran into the room.
Samantha wondered if her relaxed open-door policy needed rethinking.
“Your mother is on TV!”
Samantha didn’t ask how she knew Gayle Mitchell was her mother. They’d obviously all been chatting.
Sandra had grabbed the remote control and switched on the large screen on the wall. And there was her mother, tumbling from a chair, her normal poise deserting her as she flailed. What was that thing in her hand? It looked like a lump of granite.
Samantha winced as her mother crash-landed. She’d forgotten her mother was mortal. Capable of bleeding.
Anxiety washed over her. She found her mother aggravating, frustrating and many other things—but she didn’t want her to actually die.
She shifted on the spot to try and ease the discomfort of guilt. She should have reached out. Tried to open a dialogue. Explained how hurt she and Ella were. But they’d both been waiting for their mother to apologize for being so unsupportive, and then time had passed, and…
What if she’d left it too late?
Numb, she stared at the screen, watching as staff scurried round, as EMTs arrived. Lying there, still and bleeding, her mother looked vulnerable. Samantha couldn’t think of a single time in her life when her mother had looked vulnerable. Gayle Mitchell didn’t do vulnerable.
“Oh my—that had to hurt,” Charlotte whispered. “Why would they film this stuff? It’s so intrusive. Can you sue someone? Wow, that’s a lot of blood. Is that normal?”
Samantha pointed the remote at the screen and turned it off.
Her heart was punching her ribs, her pulse galloping.
Had her sister seen it? Ella would be upset. Despite everything that had happened, she still yearned to be a warm, close-knit family. She’d talked about making contact with their mother, but in the end she’d been too afraid of rejection to take the plunge.
Samantha had forgotten the other people in the room until she felt Charlotte’s hand on her arm.
“You’re in shock—and that’s not surprising. Come and sit down.”
Samantha extracted herself. “I’m fine.”
Charlotte exchanged looks with Amanda. “We know you’re not fine, boss. You don’t have to pretend with us. We’re like a family here. And this is your mom we’re talking about. I mean, if it was my mother I’d be in pieces.”
If it had been Charlotte’s mother, Samantha would have been in pieces, too. Charlotte’s mother dropped by the office frequently with Amy, bringing with her homemade baked goods and a level of maternal warmth that Samantha had never before encountered.
But this wasn’t Charlotte’s mother. It was her mother.
“The phone call…” Her voice didn’t sound like her own. “Did he say how bad she is?”
If she was dead, they would have said so on TV, wouldn’t they?
Not dead. But seriously injured, if the film footage was accurate.
And Samantha was going to have to go to the hospital.
Her conscience wouldn’t let her do otherwise.
This was her mother, and Samantha wasn’t a monster.
She had to ignore the fact that her mother hadn’t been present for any of the emotional highs and lows of her life. And the fact that, if it had been Samantha in hospital, her mother probably wouldn’t have come. She didn’t want to model herself on her mother. When faced with a situation that required judgment, she often thought What would my mother do? and was then careful to do the opposite.
Which answered her own question.
She turned to Charlotte. “Call the assistant back and tell him I’m on my way. Clear my schedule. I’ll go to New York tonight.”
Charlotte nodded. “No worries. Totally understood. I mean, it’s your mother, right?”
Samantha ran her hand over the back of her neck.
Was she doing the right thing?
What was she going to say when she arrived at the hospital? Were they just going to ignore what had happened the last time they’d met?
Her mother probably didn’t even know she’d moved to Boston.
Charlotte was making notes. “I’ll book you a flight and a car to the airport, and I’ll call everyone on our list and explain that you’ve had a family emergency and—”
“No.” Samantha rubbed her fingers across her forehead. “Some of those calls can’t wait. The car needs to go via my apartment, so I can pack an overnight bag. Get Kyle on the phone, because I need to apologize, and also the guy from Scotland—because we have clients who would just love his place and I need to get that visit arranged. Tell the others I’ll call them back as soon as I can.”
“Are you sure? Kyle will understand if you—”
“Just get him on the phone, Charlotte. Thank you.”
She knew that if there was to be any chance of saving their relationship she needed to speak to him right now. But what exactly was she saving? And did she want to save it? Kyle was interesting, good-looking, solvent, and he had no unfortunate habits as far as she could see. He bought her flowers. Found good restaurants. She should want to save it.
Except her feelings weren’t engaged, and she never felt as if his were, either.
It was all so—restrained. A little cold. When they were out together she’d never felt an overwhelming desire to drag him somewhere private so that they could be alone. He’d never appeared overwhelmed by her, either. He was perfect for outer Samantha—the version of herself that she showed to the real world, but inner Samantha? The person she really was under the poise and polish? Wild Samantha. That woman wanted so much more.
Why did she find it so hard to be that woman? What exactly was holding her back?
Could she really blame her mother?
She sat up a little straighter.
She wasn’t a toddler. There came a point where you had to take responsibility.
If something had to change, then she was the one who had to change it.
She winced, aware that her thoughts could have come straight from her mother’s book. Choice not Chance. That damn book that slapped her in the face every time she walked into a bookstore.
For a moment she hesitated, loath to do anything that felt like following her mother’s advice.
And then she realized how ridiculous that was. This was her life and her decision. Her mother wouldn’t even know about it.
She wasn’t waiting until the New Year to make a resolution. She was making it right now—starting with Kyle. She wasn’t saving the relationship; she was breaking up with him. Not only had she forgotten their date, she hadn’t even realized she’d forgotten it. She wasn’t an expert on relationships, but even she knew that wasn’t good. What she had with Kyle wasn’t what she wanted.
No more bland, safe, unsatisfying relationships. The next man she met, she was going to be open and honest with him. She was going to take a risk and share her thoughts and feelings, instead of keeping them locked away. Maybe if she did that, her relationships would change and she’d feel passion. She wanted that. She wanted to be emotionally involved.
Satisfied that her mother would be suitably horrified by that revelation, Samantha felt better.
“Let’s make those calls, Charlotte.”
“Okay…well, for the record, I think you’re very brave, holding it together like this.” Charlotte checked her tablet. “Just to clarify—because my brain is a little fuzzy after Amy’s eventful night—I’ll call your mother’s assistant back and say you’ll go to the hospital later. I’ll tell the Mortons that you feel Iceland is the perfect choice for them, that it’s your personal recommendation and that you’ll call to discuss it once they’ve taken a look at the itinerary we suggest. I’ll get the laird on the phone so you can try and persuade him that you don’t need to visit, and I’ll also call your sister.”
“Not my sister. I’ll call my sister. You get Kyle for me. And stop calling the Scottish guy “the laird” or I’ll do it by accident.”
“Right. Got it.”
Flustered, Charlotte left the room with the others and Samantha returned to her desk.
She closed her laptop and slipped it into her bag. She’d be able to do some work on the flight, or maybe in the hospital. It was unlikely that her mother was going to want her hanging out in her room.
She reached under her desk, rescued her shoes and slid them on, not wanting to analyze why she needed to wear heels to break up with a guy over the phone.
The thought of seeing her mother made her feel mildly nauseated. So did the thought of speaking to Kyle. She felt the same flutter of nerves in her stomach that she’d felt before she’d done a parachute jump for charity.
She smoothed her hair, then reached across to the phone on her desk and stabbed a button. “Charlotte? If you’re not feeding Amy, could you bring me a drink, please?”
“Sure! Tea or coffee?”
There was a brief silence. “Right. Coming up.”
Charlotte appeared a moment later, ice clinking in the glass she held. “Here. And I’m not judging you, so don’t worry about that. Your mom is in hospital, your relationship is ending…basically your personal life is a total mess, so you shouldn’t feel bad about needing a drink.”
“Was that blunt? Darn. I’m trying to be less blunt.”
“Blunt works for me. And you’re right—my personal life is a mess.” But she was about to make a start at clearing it up.
Charlotte patted her hand. “Just to say it’s okay for you to talk about it if you want to. You’re always listening to everyone else, but you keep all your own personal stuff inside.”
She kept everything inside. What would happen if she didn’t? If inner Samantha and outer Samantha actually merged? How would that work? It would be like walking into an otherwise immaculate apartment and finding laundry on the floor.
Charlotte seemed reluctant to relinquish the glass. “Instead of vodka I could give you a great big hug. I always find a hug is the best thing when I’m scared about something.”
“And I never gossip, so you don’t need to worry about that. You’re probably afraid someone will go straight to the press with a story about your mom, but I would never do that.”
“You never talk about your mother, and I understand why.”
Should she be pleased or alarmed? Could it be that someone had actually seen beneath the surface?
“Of course. It’s obvious. Gayle Mitchell is a legend, and if you mention her, everyone is going to want to talk about her, or get you to pull a favor and have a book signed or something. You’re afraid people will only be interested in you because of your mother—but you shouldn’t think that. You’re an inspiration in your own right. Look at what you’ve built here! Although…Choice not Chance.” She beamed. “I read it three times. And I have Brave New You on preorder.”
Samantha wished her mother had never written that damn book.
She made a mental note to store a bottle of vodka in her office. She could invent a new drinking game. One shot when someone said something flattering about her mother. Two shots when someone said those three dreaded words.
“Let’s get those calls done, Charlotte.”
“Right.” Charlotte finally put the drink down. “And I think you’re amazing, being able to focus on work at a time like this.”
She waited until Charlotte had left the room and then picked up the glass.
What was she doing? Was she really so bad at dealing with emotional issues that she needed a drink to get her through?
Maybe she should have said yes to the hug…
She put the vodka down on her desk. It wasn’t the solution. She did not need it. She’d call Kyle, and then she’d treat herself to a double-shot espresso from the Italian coffee shop down the road before she headed to the airport.
She was nervous, and she had her mother to blame for that.
Gayle Mitchell had drummed into both her children that any relationship was the death of ambition and goals—an anchor dragging you to the bottom of the rough seas of life. Every time Samantha ended a relationship, it made her doubly uncomfortable, because part of her felt as if she was pleasing her mother. Was that why she’d stayed with Kyle for so long? Because breaking up with him felt like something her mother would approve of?
Her phone lit up and she took a deep breath. The best way to handle this was to dive right in.
“Hi, there. Firstly, I am so sorry about last night. I was buried in work and to be honest I didn’t even look up from my desk until midnight—”
She wasn’t going to say she hadn’t even realized she’d missed their date until Charlotte had told her.
“Anyway, I apologize. But it did start me thinking.”
She heard an indrawn breath and ploughed on.
“Before you speak, let me finish. Please. I have to be honest. The truth is, this isn’t working for me. I mean, you’re great company, and we always have interesting conversation and a good time, but we’re not exactly setting the world on fire, are we? We have these sedate dinners, or evenings at the theater, where we behave like a middle-aged couple and you occasionally hold my hand on the way home. It’s all very civilized and restrained, and that’s probably my fault because we both know I’m not great at showing emotion. But I want to. You have no idea how much I want to be great at that. I want to feel stuff. But when you and I are together, I just don’t feel it—and that’s my fault not yours. I’ve developed this outer self, and sometimes I find it hard to connect to my inner self—” Wild Samantha.
She was probably saying far too much, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself.
“Maybe we don’t have the right chemistry, or maybe I’m never going to feel anything because I can’t let go of this controlled person I’ve become.” Thank you for that, Mother.
“But I owe it to myself to at least hold out for more. I’m not expecting a storm of passion, but a light breeze would be nice. And you deserve that, too. We both deserve better than this bland, neutral, polite relationship. I think we should acknowledge that something is missing.”
She stared through the window at the swirling snowflakes, wondering how it was possible to feel lonely in a city that was home to hundreds of thousands of people. But among all those people how did you find that one person who was going to change your world? Honesty. That had to be a good start.
“You don’t really know me, Kyle, and that’s my fault not yours. I—I’m not the person you think I am. I mean I am, but I’m also so much more. The real me wants to have a love affair so all-consuming that I forget to go to work—instead of forgetting the man and the date because I’m at work. I want to sneak off in my lunch break and buy sexy lingerie, instead of eating at my desk and taking calls. I want to drink champagne naked in bed, not seated in a theater bar surrounded by strangers. I want to have wild, desperate sex without caring when or where, and I definitely don’t want to think about work at the same time. I—I want to see stars when I’m kissed.”
Had she just said that aloud? Had she really just said that?
It was all very well resolving to be more open and honest, but it had left her feeling exposed and uncomfortable. She might as well have paraded down Newbury Street naked. Thank goodness she was ending it and wouldn’t have to face him again. This was what happened when she let wild Samantha take control. That version of her needed to stay locked away inside where she could cause minimum damage.
Dying of embarrassment, she forced out a few more words. “So what I’m saying is it’s over. And I don’t think this will be too much of a shock to you. I know there are many things about me that annoy you—not least the fact that my sister is so important to me and we speak every day. But that is never going to change, and neither is the whole passion thing, so I think we should both just accept the way things are and agree, amicably, that it’s been fun but it’s time to end it.”
There. She’d done it. She’d said it. In fact she’d said far too much.
Samantha closed her eyes and breathed slowly to try and slow her racing heart. She hadn’t realized her feelings were quite so close to the surface.
Kyle still hadn’t responded, which she took to be a sign that he was shocked by her frankness. She was shocked, too. Drinking champagne in bed, naked? Where had that come from?
She gave him a few moments to respond and then gave up waiting. “This is… I’m starting to feel a little awkward…” Understatement of the century. “Say something. Anything.”
There was only silence on the end of the phone.
Samantha felt a rush of exasperation, but also a growing sense of conviction that she’d done the right thing by breaking up with him. She’d spilled every one of her emotions all over him. She’d been honest and open, the way all those relationship books said you should be, and what had she got in return? Not warmth and understanding, but silence.
“Kyle? What do you think?”
“What do I think?”
The voice on the end of the phone was deep, rough and entirely unfamiliar.
“I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else. We’ve never had dinner, boring or otherwise, and we’ve also never had sex, so I wouldn’t know about the chemistry, but drinking champagne naked in bed sounds like a pretty good date to me. And I have no idea who Kyle is, but clearly he’s a guy who needs to get his act together. Because you’re right—no one wants or needs a bland, neutral, polite relationship.”
Samantha sat without moving. Without breathing.
Charlotte was supposed to be calling two people for her: Kyle, and Brodie McKintyre, the guy who owned the lodge in the Scottish Highlands.
If she hadn’t been speaking to Kyle, then that could only mean…
Without saying another word, she reached for the vodka and downed it in one gulp.