Decidedly with Luck (By the Bay #6) by Stina Lindenblatt

Part I





Part I was originally “Decidedly for Christmas” in the Jingle Balls charity anthology.



If you have already read the short story, you can leap-frog to Part II.





1





Kiera





December





For as long as I could remember, I’d always loved fairy tales. Even before becoming an elementary schoolteacher.

More specifically, I’d always loved Disney’s versions of the classic fairy tales.

Have you ever read Hans Christian Andersen’s original story of The Little Mermaid? There are no singing lobsters, no happy endings. The little mermaid doesn’t sail away into the sunset with her handsome prince.

Nope, not at all.

Spoiler alert!

She sacrifices herself so the prince can live, and the sea witch transforms the little mermaid into sea foam.

Unlike the original fairy tales, Disney leaves you with hope for a happily ever after, hope for a new beginning.

This was all fine and wonderful, but as I stood at the entrance to the hotel ballroom—my glittering silver stilettos feeling as though they were glued to the floor—I questioned if that would be the case for me.

Of course, it will.

Embracing that flicker of hope, I resumed reciting in my head my goal for the evening: Project Kissing Under the Mistletoe. A kiss under the mistletoe from a handsome stranger. A happy-for-now ending to the night—and a baby step toward moving on after my husband’s death a year ago.

I scanned the sea of ball gowns and tuxes and elaborate masks, searching for a particular blonde in a dress of black tulle. That’s right. In addition to the Jingle Balls ball being a fundraiser for testicular cancer, it was a masquerade ball.

My sister waved at me from across the ballroom, next to the grand Christmas tree decorated with a flurry of gold and red ornaments.

Brittany and her husband were the reason I was here tonight instead of back home in San Francisco, knitting mittens for foster kids in Boston. They were the reason I was wearing the mask covering the upper portion of my face and the stunning burgundy gown.

Don’t worry. This wasn’t the anniversary of my husband’s death. That had passed a week ago with me spending the day reading the love notes he used to leave all over our house.

Love notes I’d saved in a big floral box every time I found one.

On the day of the one-year anniversary, I’d sipped a glass of Enchanted Springs Chardonnay, the same wine we’d served at our wedding, and read the notes aloud.

Roses are red, violets are blue, I want to have hot sex with you.

A poet, he was not.

And then there was the note I had saved for last:

If I die before you, I want to be the star in the sky that grants all your wishes.

I inhaled a long, fortifying breath, channeling my inner Disney princess, and wove my way through the throng of merry partiers.

The conversation I’d had with Stephen after I’d found that note sashayed into my head. The conversation where he told me that if he did die before me—way, way, way down the line—he wanted me to fall in love again.

After this, he proceeded to list all the men he thought were viable options, in case they were available at the time.

“But definitely not Stinky Pete,” he’d said.

“I don’t think you have to worry about me ending up with the villain from Toy Story Two.”

Stephen barked a laugh—the laugh he always made when he thought I was being cute and adorable. “I was talking about my teammate. Pete Mundy. His hockey skates smell like he melted Limburger cheese in them.”

I grinned at him and kissed him sweetly on the cheek. “Okay, no, Pete Mundy. Anyone else?”

“Logan Mathews.”

“Is he a yah or a nah?”

“A definite yah.”

“I’m sure his wife would have something to say about that.” Logan had been Stephen’s best friend and teammate in college, and his best man at our wedding. Now, he played in the NHL—with the Chicago Blackhawks, last I’d heard.

“All right, I’ll add him to the list,” I’d said with a grin, even though my heart had been splitting into a billion fragments at the thought of Stephen possibly dying before me.

My sister’s red lips curved into a wide smile under her black-feathered half mask as I approached.

“Kiera.” She beamed at me like I was a baby who’d taken her first wobbly steps. “Let me introduce you to the charity’s biggest supporter and my dear friend.” The way she said it, you would’ve thought she was talking about royalty. “Lucinda, this is my little sister, Kiera. Kiera, this is Lucinda Mathews.” The woman’s surname came out in a hushed whisper.